(2015) Drama (China Lion) Xiaogang Feng, Hanyu Zhang, Qing Xu, Kris Wu, Yi Feng Li, Hua Liu, Ju-Gang Bai, Shan Jiang, Jing Liang, Nuo Lu, Hao Ning, Yuxian Shang, Zeru Tao, Hewei Yu, Yi Zhang, Yishan Zhang. Directed by He Guan
There has always been a disconnect between the young and the old. In every culture, the youthful have had difficulties relating o the elderly, and vice versa. In the 60s, the term “generation gap” was coined and there are no signs that things have changed.
In Beijing, there are a collection of alleyways called hutongs that were built once for the diplomatic corps that worked in the foreign embassies nearby at the turn of the 20th century. These alleyways have collective houses surrounding them; they are charming but are mainly inhabited by less well-to-do folk these days.
Among those folk is Liu Ye (Feng) who is better known around the neighborhood as Mr. Six (it is never explained how he acquired that nickname). He was at one time a hoodlum, although he seems content to exist selling things in his shop and leading a life under the radar. He has the respect of everyone in the neighborhood – including the police – and often is turned to when disputes need to be settled. He is something of a Don Corleone but without the impressive Long Island compound.
He hangs out with his friends with colorful nicknames, including the somewhat slow but loyal Lampshade (Liu) and the feisty brawler Scrapper (H. Zhang). He also has a somewhat interesting romantic relationship with his neighbor Chatterbox (Xu). He doesn’t have a ton of money but then again he doesn’t need much.
That is, until his son Bobby (Li) went all stupid on him and started sleeping with the girl of street racer and scion of a corrupt politician Kris (Wu). Although Bobby and Mr. Six are estranged, Mr. Six feels honor-bound to negotiate his son’s release and help clean up his mess. However, Kris proves to be somewhat arrogant and demands 100,000 yuan (about $15,000) rather than the 2,000 yuan that Mr. Six brought with him. And when Lampshade tries to help but makes matters worse, Mr. Six is forced to bring his old gang back together again to take on the young street racing gang, knowing that the cops won’t help since these are all sons of businessmen and politicians and are basically untouchable. As an added complication, Mr. Six is having some fairly serious heart issues that may sideline him from the fight. And then there’s the fact that Bobby doesn’t want anything to do with his father…*sigh* kids today, right?
Some movies are roller coaster rides from the get-go and others are slow burners; this is the latter kind of movie. It starts out at a very quiet and slow pace and builds. You would think that the subject matter would make this more of an action film, but there’s actually very little of that which might upset action movie junkies somewhat.
Feng is a solid presence, laconic and menacing and brooding at times, but never a figure of pity. One reviewer compared him to Charles Bronson and I suppose that works but for me, he was a little bit more stoic than Bronson was. He is the moral center of the movie, a man of strong convictions but one can’t forget that his convictions allowed him to harm innocents as well. He is a complex character and Guan allows us to get to know him thoroughly. He may well be the most fascinating character we’ll see at the movies this year and one of the most interesting ever.
The movie largely starts out as a slice of life in the hutong and I really liked that. I’ve actually visited a hutong in Beijing and found it fascinating. Da Queen and I got to see how people live in China and it was one of the highlights of our trip. You don’t get a sense so much of the hustle and bustle of life in a metropolitan city the size of Beijing; this is a much slower pace of life.
There is a scene in the movie in which Bobby and Mr. Six are sitting in a tiny noodle shop having a meal and the two are trying to make some sort of common ground between them. It is an amazing scene, a very real discussion between two men who have little in common but their love for each other as father and son. Each is sure the other is wrong-headed and that they are in the right; each doesn’t know how to navigate a trail that they can both walk on. It’s mesmerizing and heartbreaking at the same time because so many fathers and sons have the same failings.
There are some moments that are a little bit bizarre, as when Feng goes after the street racing gang and it feels like the scene should have been in Furious 7 rather than this film, and there are other moments that have that feeling that they came out of different movies, plunked themselves down for a moment and then went back to their original location. These moments are a bit jarring and may throw you out of the mood of the film for a short while, but stick with it. As a slice of life this film works on every level.
REASONS TO GO: A slice of life from Beijing’s hutongs. The film has a mythic quality to it. Feng delivers a powerful performance.
REASONS TO STAY: There are odd moments that almost seem like they came from other films. It lacks the action to satisfy fans of that genre.
FAMILY VALUES: A goodly amount of profanity along with plenty of violence, some sexuality and partial nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Feng is not only an actor, but is one of China’s most popular directors.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Term Life
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10