Mr. Six is a Chinese fusion of John Wick and Taken that’s also director Guan Hu and star Feng Xiaogang’s Gran Torino: Spurred on by the abduction of his son and the killing of his pet bird by a bunch of pampered rich kids, an aging ex-gangster (Feng) draws on his history of violence to teach the disrespectful youth a lesson. Ripe for parody, this set-up instead convincingly locates moral rot in contemporary China, forging melodrama from exaggerated oppositions of young and old, ignorance and wisdom (a divide so deliberately drawn that, at one point, the two generational sets are positioned directly across from each other, separated only by a slow-thawing lake).
Guan’s melodrama helps sell his fervent moralizing, while his streetwise social realism grounds his cultural commentaries (including one all-too-believable scene in which a crowd of young people mindlessly record a suicide attempt on their smart phones). At over two hours, the balance isn’t always sustained—and a faithfulness to northern Chinese values makes women an exception for respect under its masculine code. But Mr. Six benefits from its brashness when compared to, say, Diao Yi’nan’s stiffly arty Black Coal, Thin Ice, China’s other recent working class crime epic; and from the Chinese icon in its lead role. Feng is a commercially successful comedy actor, director, and screenwriter whose choices have become more interesting with age. His performance lends Mr. Six an Eastwoodian gravitas, perfectly paired with Peng Dou’s stately, brass-heavy score.
Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2016.