North American Premiere
Gatao 2: Rise of the King is nominally a sequel to Gatao, the 2015 Taiwanese film directed by Joe C. Lee Wan-Kit. But, as the film is described in NYAFF publicity materials, it is a "stand-alone gangster saga." ("Gatao", by the way, means gang leader.) The director this time around is Yen Cheng-Kuo; Rise of the King is his directorial debut. Yen is a former child star (his first screen credits were two films that came out in 1980 when he was approximately six years old). Later he "narrowly escaped the death penalty and instead served 10 years in prison for kidnapping." The cast of "2" also appears to be largely, if not entirely, different from the original.
The film centers on the conflict between two former friends. Ren (Shih-Hsien Wang) is old school, believing in integrity and loyalty, while Jian (Collin Chou) will do whatever it takes to get to the top. The bulk of the story takes place three years after an introductory segment which ends with Jian being arrested and taken away the police. After getting out of prison, he somehow manages to become the head of Jian Corporation. Just how this happens is never explained; the viewer has to take it on faith that he has managed to make the most of his criminal skills to amass connections, wealth and power.
Jian seeks out Ren, wanting him to become an associate in his illegal endeavors. But Ren is loyal to his boss, President Gui (Jack Kao) and rejects Jian's offer out of antipathy to the nature of Jian Corp's business. Consequently, a gang war breaks out between the two sides. Large-scale street battles result that involve the criminals' weapon of choice, bats, although fists, feet, knives and even the occasional gun are also employed. The latter is used to great effect by one of Jian's henchmen, the white-haired nut-job appropriately known as Syko (Samuel K).
I have not seen the original Gatao, but didn't feel that fact in any way significantly diminished my enjoyment of Gatao 2: Rise of the King. Overall it's a interesting, well-structured and -filmed action movie. It proves that Taiwan can produce a gangster flick on a par with those of Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, and that Yen should have a promising future as a director.
AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars; solidly recommended.