On Wednesday, September 20th at 7 pm, the 5th season of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival opens with a charming, bitter-sweet thriller, “The Gangster’s Daughter.” Directed by Mei-Juin Chen and starring Ally Chiu as Shaowu and Jack Kao as Kiego, the film brings to life a complicated father-daughter story. Shaowu is a teen, living with her grandmother when her mother suddenly dies. Shedding not a tear, a renewed interest in getting to know her father surfaces and the two, estranged for years, are reunited. The life of a small-time gang leader isn’t exactly the perfect home to raise a teen daughter, but we can’t pick our family. Shaowu struggles to fit in to her new home and school in Teipei, a drastic change from the remote area of Kinmen. She longs to identify with her father, fully understanding exactly what he does for a living and using that information to help her fit in. As any father would do, he sticks up for his daughter, but perhaps in ways most of us wouldn’t fathom.
The characters are wonderfully complex. We truly get to know this mob boss, his own insecurities, and most importantly his love for his daughter. Wanting her to be nothing like him, he attempts to guide her, but Shaowu admires him and wants to be his mirror image. And Shaowu is a typical teen, looking for her identity, but this is complicated by her familial situations. As they get to know one another, Kiego begins to understand that perhaps a life of crime isn’t in his future, especially when his boss begins to deal drugs. Even he has a moral boundary that he will not cross. Juggling his current situation while raising his daughter is profoundly difficult and the dangers are clearly evident.
Chiu is extraordinary in her role as the tough yet emotionally delicate and needy teen. Kao personifies a dangerous and intimidating mob boss, but easily lets us see his sweet side just with his smile and a twinkle in his eye. It is the two actors together that is wonderfully engaging. They respond to one another with a deep love that only a father and daughter could have. We grow to love and care about both of them as we watch their relationship develop. There is something very special about a father and daughter that seems intangible, yet Chiu and Kao find a way to beautifully portray this.
Cinematically, the film is gorgeous. Chen pays careful attention to every scene to bring us closer to the subjects, allowing us to feel the depth of emotion. With precision editing, we are truly connected to these characters. Chen orchestrates an engaging albeit unusual story with all of her filmmaking tools. Telling a meaningful father-daughter story is no easy task and weaving into the story an element of violence heightens your every sense.
“The Gangster’s Daughter” is an expertly crafted film with extraordinary performances from Chiu and Kao. While it is stereotypically violent (it is a gangster movie), there are many other elements to give the story charm, wit, and love all in perfect balance. For tickets, go to www.asianpopupcinema.org/tickets Films will be shown at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St., Chicago