“Kids these days.”
This commonly known and heard phrase paints the theme for generational clashes in our society that have been cycled forward time and time again, from changing values to changing lifestyles.
The 2015 thriller “Mr. Six,” directed by Guan Hu, stars acclaimed director and screenwriter Feng Xiaogang as the title character in a reflection of the clashing cultures in Beijing’s society today. As an aging gangster, well-respected by the community for his grip on principles and values, Mr. Six faces the generation of his son that revels in the lack of rules and discipline, as well as the tensions between the rich and privileged and the poor at the bottom.
When his estranged son gets into trouble with a gang of wealthy “princelings,” or children of high-ranked officials and businessmen, Mr. Six decides to use his own methods to help his son. From tracking down members of the young gang, traveling door-to-door to his old allies to seek help in person, to disregarding his own serious heart problems, the film focuses heavily on Mr. Six’s ability to uphold his values of the older generation that aren’t evident in the younger gang at all.
Clearly, codes of honor, loyalty and respect have been smothered by the economic winners of China’s society, or those at the top. As usual, the audience is much more invested in the side of Mr. Six as the respectful and strong-willed underdog of the film as opposed to the Ferrari-driving, money-blowing “punks.”
The discussion and Q&A held post-screening of “Mr. Six” heavily focused on the culture of Chinese film and the “debate” between northern and (the lack of) southern Chinese influences on the film. Led by Lora Chen (CEO of China Media Consulting) and Mayfair Yang (director of the University of Santa Barbara Confucius Institute & Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies Departments), the Q&A opened with a short discussion of the film’s enormous success in China, the influence of Feng Xiaogang’s performance and the changes in China’s media and film industry.
Many in the audience were intrigued to hear more and comment on the apparent differences between Northern Chinese culture and language that was readily displayed in the film and the effect it may have had at the box office with northern versus southern Chinese viewers. A few Chinese-born students pitched in, saying that they “didn’t feel that the particularly northern style affected the overall success of the film,” and that it was simply a “very well-made movie [that I] enjoyed, even being from southern China.”
Though much the film’s script does not thoroughly meet expectations to the “thriller,” “suspense” or “action” genre tags it seems to want to convey, there are certain plot points that certainly give the audience a genuine tone of drama at its finest. The directing of Guan Hu is notable for the balance of enough comedic touch and drama that brings to life a quality film with enough appeal to all.
Feng Xiaogang’s flexibility and ability to command the screen as an aging, yet powerful force definitely enhances the script that seems to be underdeveloped at certain points leading up to the climax. It must be said that the beautifully shot climax of the film, with it’s perfectly orchestrated theme, is certainly deserving of an award in and of itself.
Though some may find the exposition to be lacking, I would still recommend this film to any and all who enjoy a real look at society’s constant generational rift and Guan Hu’s impeccable work in dramatizing it. Being an international film and in the Chinese language, it is a strong step toward bridging the ever-nearing gap between China’s film industry and Hollywood, and should be admired for its success in portraying society’s divides.