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Mr. Six (Lao Pao Er)
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by Jay Seaver

"'Six' is well worth sticking with."
3 stars

Although "Mr. Six" isn't much different in substance to any number of "aging tough guy stands up to disrespectful young punks" movies, it eases the audience into that story with a little more care than is typical, and maybe doesn't quite escalate in exactly the way one might expect. It's thus fairly low-key for something presented as a vigilante action movie, and maybe a little drawn out even for the other genres it fits, but it's still an enjoyable go at the idea, even if one is expecting something a little louder.

Liu Ye (Feng Xiaogang), whom everyone in the Beijing neighborhood where he lives calls "Mr. Six" ("Lao Pao Er"), used to be a big deal, and even now, despite nobody shopping in the convenience store he half-heartedly runs, there's still a fair amount of respect for him, even among the police, even if he has to go around scrounging up money to bail his friend "Scrapper" Men San Er (Zhang Hanyu) out of jail. It's been a while since he had spoken to his son "Bobby" Xiao Bo (Li Yifeng), and when he does visit his son's apartment, he finds Bobby has gotten into a disagreement with a member of a connected family over a girl which escalated to letting this guy's Ferrari, and now he's got an awful lot of money to pay back. Liu Ye intends to raise it, but he's got a bit more than age slowing him down.

There's an edgy sort of energy to the start of this movie; Liu Ye is presented as an old-timer whose insistence on a certain sort of propriety makes him seem awful close to unhinged even if neither his words nor his attitude are that far off from the typical elder grumpiness. It's kind of curious, then, that the filmmakers seem to let this fade as the film goes on, making Liu Ye more clearly sympathetic and having the moments when he is shown as less influential pass without a great deal of friction. It is, in an ideal situation, appropriate that the theme of the film changes as it goes on - it is healthy to go from frustration to acceptance vis-a-vis one's obsolescence - but though the transition is relatively smooth, it's not necessarily entirely genuine in feeling.

Still, the fact that director Guan Hu (who also wrote the film with Dong Runnian) never has the audience feel a jolt as the film goes from one state to the next is something worthy of praise. For what is basically a fairly simple story given a fairly extended running time, and one that sometimes runs in circles, Mr. Six seldom feels like it's wasting the audience's time. Guan does perhaps overdo things on occasion - the people around me that could understand the Mandarin dialogue would laugh much harder than me at lines that only seemed mildly overwrought in the subtitles - but he does an excellent job of getting the audience to the place where it needs to be both in terms of plot and emotion throughout, with only a few obvious shortcuts. It's a surprisingly graceful presentation, with some enjoyable imagery on the way.

Interestingly, star Feng Xiaogang is better known as a director - one of China's most popular - and there are moments when this doesn't seem particularly surprising; he's got a kind of weird delivery and voice, which is initially kind of useful, setting him apart from the crowd around him, making Liu Ye authoritative or eccentric. It's less noticeable by the end of the film as Liu Ye becomes more stoic, something Feng handles quite well. He also has decent chemistry with the actors he spends the most time opposite.

There are some nifty performances among the supporting cast, too, most notably Xu Qing as "Chatterbox" Hua Xia Zi (I'm not sure how literal the names given in the subtitles may be), who has a history with Liu Ye; Xu makes sure we see Chatterbox's clear affection but equally clear understanding of just how rigid this guy can be well before the film even halfway spells it out. Li Yifeng isn't quite as layered in playing Bobby, but he handles both estrangement and loyalty well. Kris Wu is a bit broader as the rich punk, but Zhang Hanyu portrays Scrapper with an almost casual capability where the potential for violence is concerned.

"Mr. Six" tells a fairly familiar story, but does so with a bit more style than expected, and a knack for smoothing over the potentially bumpy parts that should not be underestimated; it would be clumsy otherwise. It's still certainly got its rough bits, but general ability and nice touches go a long way with it.

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originally posted: 12/28/15 14:25:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Venice Film Festival For more in the 2015 Venice Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/15/20 James Really enjoyable Film - well done. 4 stars
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  24-Dec-2015 (MA)

Directed by
  Hu Guan

Written by
  Runnian Dong
  Hu Guan

  Xiaogang Feng
  Yi Feng Li
  Kris Wu
  Qing Xu
  Hanyu Zhang

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