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China and Inner Asia
The Weak Gangster and His Deadly Moll: Taiwan Gangster Films of the 1980s and 1990s
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
Taipei National University of the Arts, Taiwan (Republic of China)
This paper investigates Taiwan gangster films from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, with a specific focus on Tsai Yang-ming’s famous gangster trilogy, Gangland Odyssey (1988), Fraternity (1990), and Joe-Goody (1992). While previous literature has focused on Taiwan gangster films that came out after the 2000s, little attention has been paid to earlier works that actually set the foundation for the genre. In fact, gangster films from the 1980s and 1990s share some of the features with Taiwan New Cinema, which emerged in the early 1980s, such as the theme of crime, the use of nativist elements, and the impact of capitalist modernity. Drawing on theories of genre studies and cultural studies, this paper argues that these early gangster films offer more than escapist and pulpy pleasure; they actually capture the society’s collective unconscious at a time of rapid transformation and mounting social challenges. The paper first examines ways in which the society and the film industry shaped the gangster films in Taiwan during the 1980s and 1990s. By looking at the construction of the weak gangster figure and the strong gangster moll in Tsai Yang-ming’s trilogy, the paper further discusses Taiwan gangster films’ changing conception of masculinity and how they challenge the genre’s conventional macho code. The gangster’s relationship with the father figures in his life—his biological father and the mob boss—also reveals the society’s struggle and frustration over national and cultural identity during the post-martial law period.