Feng Xiaogang, consistently China’s most successful director, has taken on acting roles before, mostly bit parts and secondary characters. But appearing in the title role of Venice festival’s closing film “Mr. Six” was a definite step up.
The film’s director, Guan Hu, and producer, Wang Zhonglei, admit to almost tricking Feng into the role.
Guan and Huayi Brothers Media asked Feng to appraise the script for the company, without revealing that their real motive for showing him the screenplay was to try to get him to buy in as the lead.
Feng says he found himself unable to put it down. “You seldom get to see a story like this… a story about the good old days and values that transcends time and space,” Feng said.
The film is an admittedly old-fashioned tale about a former gang leader, now in his 50s and out of condition, who is forced to rouse himself when his son is kidnapped by a bunch of younger hoodlums. Mr. Six responds by rounding up some of his old gang pals.
The resulting conflict is not so much gang on gang, but old versus new, with an emphasis on taking viewers down memory lane – literally. Much of the picture is set in Beijing’s hutongs or narrow alleyways that typified northern Chinese towns before so many were torn down to make way for more modern, less communal, developments.
The picture is also a vehicle for two generations of Chinese actors to share the screen. Feng lines up with actress Xu Qing, whose range stretched from Chen Kaige’s “Life on a String” to “Looper,” in which she played Bruce Willis’ wife, and Zhang Hanyu. One of China’s best actors, Zhang has appeared in several of Feng’s films and came of age in his “Assembly,” before starring in Guan’s “The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel,” and Tsui Hark’s recent smash “The Taking of Tiger Mountain.”
They are ranged against a younger collection of actors including Canadian-Chinese K-pop music idol Kris Wu, Li Yifeng, who parlayed appearances on Chinese TV reality shows into a string of hit sitcom roles, and Liu Hua, who broke out in Ning Hao’s “Crazy Stone” before also adding the recent hit “The Monkey King.”
The action drama is expected to make for an entertaining closer to the Venice festival. In China, the feel-good factor also positions the film as one of the highlights of the box office critical end of the year period. Huayi has booked “Mr. Six” to unwrap on Christmas Eve.