Monday, July 02, 2018

NYAFF ’18: Gatao 2

Back in the day, it meant boss or community leader, or so the president of the North Fort crime syndicate tells it. Those days are gone. Now “Gatao” means gangster and the thugs from the upstart Jian Company intend to live up to everything the word entails in Yen Cheng-kuo’s Gatao 2 (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

As the operational leader of the North Fort syndicate, Ren would very much like to take over the turf of the North Town gang, but President Gui insists they must honor the agreement he made with North Town’s late president. Jian Lui, Ren’s sworn brother from their school days is under no such constraints. Suddenly in the gangster business, he moves quickly to consolidate the Taipei narcotics trade.

Ostensibly, he offers to cut North Fort in on the action, but he knows neither Ren or Gui wish to be involved in the dirty business. Shrewdly, he acts like the offended party, as he moves to undercut North Fort’s support. Gui even insists on restraint when the Jian outfit kills one of Ren’s men. The loyal Gatao tries to toe the line, but it is not long before gang wars erupt on the streets of Taipei.

We’re talking about those crazy street fights, where they hang out the baseball bats and machetes and then just charge at each other. There is in fact plenty of action in Gatao 2, but there is also a clash of codes and strategies. Whatever it is that you like in gangster movies you can find here. Fans should also rest assured, no prior knowledge of Gatao 1 is required to enjoy the self-contained sequel. However, it is worth noting 1 featured former child star Yen Cheng-kuo (who appeared in The Sandwich Man), while he helmed 2. His involvement with the Gatao duology happened after he served ten years in prison for a kidnapping-extortion conviction. So yeah, maybe he can relate to the subject matter. Regardless, he can stage a heck of a street brawl.

Gatao 2 is the sort of grand gangster im/morality tale we haven’t had for a while. Jack Kao (one of the few holdovers from the previous film) sets the tone from the top as the stubbornly principled President Gui. Collin Chou (from The Matrix and The Four franchises) is spectacularly villainous as the snappy dressing Jian. Chang Zhang-xing memorably stirs the pot even further as Ren’s troubled soldier, Po, but it is Wang Shih-hsien who really anchors the film as the flinty Ren, who temperamentally stands equidistance between the fiery Jian and the reserved Gui. Wang also plays it understated, but you can always see the gangster in him.

For regular patrons of NYAFF, Gatao 2 should be a no-brainer. It has veteran Taiwanese screen actors, large-scale beatdowns, shadowy conspiracies, and multiple betrayals. In other words, it is a lot of good clean fun. Very highly recommended, Gatao 2 screens on the Fourth of July at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.