Of all the screenings I attended over this period, Mr Six reminded me most why I’ve come to value film festivals so highly. I saw this 136 minute-long Chinese film at 9pm on a gloriously big screen at a movie theatre in which usually only the big mainstream English language releases are shown. That may not sound very exciting to some of you, but for me, just the act of being able to sit there in a big screen at a somewhat mainstream venue to watch Mr Six as if this kind of thing was the norm, it was quite thrilling. Of course, that thrill would have been hampered if the film itself wasn’t very good.
One could be forgiven for thinking going in that this movie is all about fighting or martial arts of some sort. It kind of is, but not in the traditional way you’d expect from a Chinese crime drama about street gangs and thug life. This film shows you a different side, from the perspective of an older generation who’ve done the hands-on work years ago and are now respected to the point where they no longer need to fight for it. Mr Six himself, presumably in his mid-60’s, is representative of this older generation; a scene early on shows his influence not only on the community but also Beijing’s police department, when he interferes in a confrontation between officers and a street vendor.
Straight-up, there’s not much physicality here, though the film constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat with the underlying threat of it, and in this case that works incredibly well. Rather it’s more a character-driven drama focusing primarily on the relationship between Mr Six, played by Feng Xiaogang (who surprisingly, considering this role, is best known for making comedy films in China), and his estranged son Xiao Bo (Li Yifeng), who is kidnapped and held hostage by a young street gang not long into the movie.
This brings out some of the film’s best scenes, as Mr Six attempts to secure his son’s release and finds himself pushed to the point of considering whether to get his hands dirty once again. His interactions with the gang’s leader, played by Kris Wu, create some of the most entertaining moments of the movie, and when Mr Six goes to a few of his old friends for help with the situation, tensions build to breaking point between the two disconnected generations.
The generational gap is a major theme here; on numerous occasions the older characters lament how the next generation has turned out, and you get the sense that this movie does represent something of a watershed for 1970s/ 80s Asian cinema, in which characters like Mr Six would have been in their prime. In this perhaps lies the film’s greatest strength. Both sides of the generational divide are portrayed fairly; you see the intricacies, eccentricities and social statuses of each, and it eventually leads to a surprising conclusion as they struggle to understand one another.
Mr Six was certainly one of my favourite evenings of the festival. I loved the overall experience. Aside from one strange scene involving an ostrich that felt horribly out of place, it hit all the notes it was aiming for; both the big emotional ones and the subtle qualities found in its script, performances, and the accomplished direction from Guan Hu. No word on a wider UK release date yet, but absolutely worth looking out for when it arrives.
9 / 10