International Festival Premiere
White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
Gatao: The Last Stray
角頭-浪流連 (Jiao Tou – Lang Liu Lian)
Taiwan, 2021, 120’, Mandarin, Taiwanese
Directed by: Ray Jiang
Script: Shane Chang, Ray Jiang, Mojo Chang
Photography (color): Ming Lee
Editing: Soma Chen, Stone Ho
Production Designer: Yao Kuo-chen
Music: Armo Huang
Producers: Shane Chang, Red Chang, Jennifer Jao, Simon Chang, Michael Chang
Cast: Cheng Jen-shuo (Qing), Hsieh Hsin-ying (Chi), Ko Shu-yuan (Ren), Justin Sheng (Skai), Tseng Wan-ting (Senator Hsi), Huang Shang-ho (Chao), Gary Tang (Pretty-Pan), Chang Zhang-xing (Po), Panda Wu (Panda), Samuel K (Toby), Oscar Lin (Doy), Bamboo Chen (Officer Ho), Jack Kao (Boss Gui), Lung Shao-hua (Bart), Tai Bo (Hada)
Date of First Release in Territory: February 5th, 2021
After the box office success of Gatao 2: Rise of the King, producer Red Chang told local media that making a sequel was a no-brainer. However, since too many key characters died in Gatao 2, he had to expand the Gatao Universe further before he could proceed with additional stories. The result is Gatao: The Last Stray, an official “spin-off” prequel that is set six years before its predecessor. While The Last Stray features many of the characters that appeared earlier in the series (or later, if you’re looking chronologically), its nature as a prequel means that newcomers to the Gatao Universe will find the film perfectly accessible.
The Last Stray once again focuses on the adventures of the North Fort gang, led by Boss Gui (Jack Kao) and his lieutenant Ren (Ko Shu-yuan, taking over the role from Gatao 2’s Wang Shih-hsien). Despite a respectful long-held truce between Gui and South Pit gang leader Bart (Lung Shao-hua), Bart’s ambitious son-in-law Skai (Justin Sheng) sets off a sinister plan involving a dangerous drug that threatens to break the peace.
Though The Last Stray is driven by the usual double crosses and testosterone-driven rivalries that fueled previous Gatao films, the heart of the story is Qing, one of Ren’s right-hand men and a member of the North Fort Five Tigers, who stole the show in Gatao 2. Once again played by the charismatic Cheng Jen-shuo, Qing has been elevated from supporting player to leading man this time as the story focuses on his burgeoning romance with Chi (Hsieh Hsin-ying), a photographer whom he meets in the opening scene. Looking at the dangerous life of the criminal underworld from an outsider’s perspective gives the creative team the opportunity to make critical observations about living a life of crime. The romance also provides moments of respite from the intense violence and complex gangland rivalries.
“Sharks never stop swimming, they can only continue forward even if they run out of breath,” Chi says in a poignant observation about Qing’s destiny. Though love gives Qing a chance at a normal life, Qing is a tragic character in that it’s virtually impossible for him to leave North Fort because it’s the only family he’s ever known.
Working with a lower budget than that of the previous film, co-writer and director Ray Jiang – an assistant director on the first Gatao film who also co-wrote the second film – has to rein in his ambition on the action this time around. Nevertheless, the several action sequences in the film – choreographed by Hung Shih-hao (The Scoundrels) – are well shot, and his ambitious use of long takes (shot by cinematographer Ming Lee) in several sequences is particularly impressive.
The Last Stray’s Chinese title translates to “The Wandering Waves,” a reference to the tragedy of those caught in the way of the criminal life. As hard as the characters in the Gatao Universe try to uphold the codes of honour that they’re bound to, they’re also caught in an endless cycle of violence because of the people who break those codes. Recalibrating the Gatao series into a sobering examination about the realities of thug life helped The Last Stray become the highest-grossing film of the series. With another Gatao film and a TV series already in the works, it’s reassuring to see The Last Stray setting the right direction in growing the Gatao Universe into Taiwan cinema’s own Young and Dangerous-style gangster film franchise.
Ray Jiang began his career as an assistant director and production planner. He started directing advertisements in 2011 and TV series in 2015. In 2018, he won Best Directing in a Television Series at the Golden Bell Awards for his work on Age of Rebellion (2018). He served as an assistant director on Gatao (2015), as well as co-writer and deputy director on Gatao 2: Rise of the King (2018). Gatao: The Last Stray (2021), which he also co-wrote, is his first feature film as a director.
2021 – Gatao: The Last Stray