17 January 2017 | grandmastersik
Taiwanese gangster flick that aims to punch above its weight
Let me begin by saying that I loved the look of this film: the excellent camera work coupled with mood-setting lighting perfectly captured the impoverished society and gritty daily life of a Taiwanese hoodlum.
It's a shame then that the plot is a bit muddled (and yes, the bad subtitles didn't help), and that male models strut around like bad boys in natty suits with their shiny cars. I know that they're supposed to be led by the better-educated Michael, but he looks more Wall Street than cheap market stalls... and the market is a big part of this film.
Opening with some thugs fighting, Ah Xiong gets busted and goes down as Feng and the rest of his buddies run away. Fast forward three years to Xiong's release and a rival gang is taken over by its dead leader's son, who's hot off the plane back from America and wants to rule by force, rather than respecting old traditions that have kept relative peace and order.
With Ah Xiong and Feng being loyal members of Michael's rival gang, Michael attempts to sway Feng, who then struggles to remain the man he is whilst tempted by the power he's always craved. Meanwhile, Ah Xiong kind of drifts between scenes, not sure what he wants out of life, because he's a gangster at heart but knows that it's a doomed future.
And then we have the market... which every fight and ambition seems to revolve around, making us feel that the world is incredibly small. There are also plenty of hookers, who all look like models and are a fantastic advertisement for the Taiwanese tourism industry (Hey, sex-tourists, don't worry about the gangs, they're too busy fighting over the pittance protection money sellers of knock-off underwear give them to bother you, so visit Taiwan. Just look at all our gorgeous ladies!).
IMDb lists Gatao as Action, but it's really a drama... and it is quite slow, as - inspired by heavyweight classics - it tries to build up emotional involvement, but never really succeeds.
And so, in the end, Gatao suffers the fate of so many others who go up a weight class for bigger glory: the technical skill is there, but ultimately, the punches just lack the same impact.