by Mei Ling Chen
If there were a film version of the phrase “Kids these days,” Mr. Six would be it. Starring Feng Xiaogang as the titular Mr. Six, the film is about the changing criminal underworld of Beijing and the loss of a moral code. Mr. Six is a 50-year-old former gangster who still commands a lot of respect in his neighbourhood. Estranged from his son and with no real job, Mr. Six wanders around the hutongs (alleys) resolving issues amongst neighbours. His words carry so much weight that even the cops are afraid of him. Even with the violent connotations, he still has his own code. He obeys the law and knows what’s fair, and for that, he is still held in high regard.
When his son is kidnapped for scratching a rich street-racer’s Ferrari, who also happens to be the son of a politician, he must venture out of the hutongs to get him back. It’s a compelling image seeing him leave the safety of his old world and enter the bright lights and flashy colour of his son’s. He’s immediately uncomfortable with the video games and fast cars, and can barely hide his contention that the principles he stands by no longer hold power in this new world. Trying to play by their rules, he agrees to pay 100,000 RMB to pay for the car damages and the release of his son. He visits his friends from his gangster days to scrounge up some money from them—many of whom are also down on their luck. And once money is no longer enough, everything boils over into an all-out rumble.
The film stops short of depicting any real violence, as it’s not that type of movie. It sets out to do more than that. Mr Six is about one man’s path to redemption, to make good with his son and to end the cycle of violence. It also emphasizes the changing face of China as the younger generation becomes more consumed with material goods and Western culture, no longer respecting their elders or anyone else for that matter.
The film takes a sharp left turn when a bigger conspiracy of government corruption unfolds. For all the talk about how much Mr. Six dominated back in the day, it’s unfortunate we weren’t able to see that in action against those who really deserve it. Perhaps the only thing disappointing about Mr. Six was Mr. Six himself. The film ends on a sombre, yet hopeful note, and is just the right balance between suspenseful and funny to be watchable. But it is not for those in the audience looking for a Taken-style revenge film.