Zhang Xuejun, a.k.a. Mr. Six is the sort of
old timer who is always around to deliver a lecture on manners. However, this
semi-retired gangster can back up his words. Mr. Six always lived by a code,
but to the younger, nihilistic generation of thugs consider that a weakness.
Still, he has character and that counts for a lot in Guan Hu’s Mr. Six (trailer
here), which opens this Christmas Eve in New York.
Mr. Six is a stabilizing, protective figure in
his working class Beijing hutong neighborhood, but he gets along better with
his not-so-talkative songbird than his son Bobby. Mr. Six has not heard from the
twentynothing since he moved out several months ago. He assumed the kid was
just sulking as usual, until he finally starts asking round. It turns out Bobby
was kidnapped by the punky nouveau riche leader of a street racing gang as part
of a dispute over a girl and a scratched up Ferrari. Mr. Six understands Kris
can act with impunity as the son of a corrupt government official, so he arranges
to pay Bobby’s debt/ransom. Of course, complications continue to snowball.
Feng Xiaogang is one of China’s most
commercially successful directors, who has occasionally turned up in front of the
camera for relatively small roles. However, those brief appearances will not
prepare fans for the heavy soulfulness of his performance as the title
character. He hardly needs to speak a word (even though he delivers some stone
cold dialogue with earthy flair)—the aching dignity and regret just radiates
out of him. Thanks to his flinty presence and Guan’s reserved approach, Mr. Six
might just be the definitive aging gangster.
He is also surrounded by a top-notch ensemble,
starting with the kind of awesome Zhang Hanyu as Mr. Six’s slightly younger,
hardnosed crony, Scrapper. He is probably worthy of his own film. Kris Wu also
defies all expectations, bringing elements of humanity in his initially
reckless and entitled namesake. Ironically, Li Yifeng hits a more consistent,
less nuanced note as the resentful Bobby. Still, his shortcomings are redeemed
by Xu Qing’s heartfelt but intelligent performance as Mr. Six’s patient lover,
Mr. Six is a tremendous film that levels a potent
critique of China’s contemporary social attitudes and government corruption.
Thematically, it might sound a lot like Takeshi Kitano’s Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen, but it is much closer in tone to the
Michael Caine vehicle Harry Brown.
Feng displays none of the bombast he unleashed in films like Assembly and Aftershock, giving a gritty, utterly real, street level
performance. Even though it is not exactly inspirational, per se, Mr. Six is a great film to end the cinematic
year with. Very highly recommended, Mr.
Six opens this Thursday (12/24) in New York, at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Feng Xiaogang, Gangster Films