Mr. Six (left), his pal (right)
At a hotel, I asked a concierge for a list of good Chinese movies and Mr. Six was among them–and wow did it belong there.
I found it on a Singapore Air flight and this tale of the clash of the old and poor Beijingers with the rich and young blew me away. The film opens in the hutongs of Beijing where an old time gangster, nicknamed Mr. Six, lives and rules dispensing justice as he threatens pickpockets and intervenes between the police and a poor vendor. Mr Six, a widower, hasn’t even heard from his twenty-something son in six months. He knows the kid doesn’t care about him. He soon hears that his son’s been kidnapped as vengeance for sleeping with a super-rich kid’s girlfriend and then keying that guy’s Ferrari.
Mr. Six knows his son was in the wrong and tracks down the gang of rich car racers, who might as well come from another world. Their culture and mores have little in common with this old geezer who has a very clear, almost eye-for-an-eye view of justice.
Rich kid with blond hair and scratched Ferrari
Mr. Six shocks and impresses the kid his son wronged in a curious way. He’s given 48 hours to come up with 20,000 to pay for the car’s paint job. Mr. Six then proceeds to make the rounds of his old pals, some who’re squeaking by and others who’ve become wealthy to get the money. The film is a good look into China’s culture today. The young are (in some regions more than others) not buying into the old ethos. Materialism is on the rise and taking its toll in the form of souls. Mr. Six has the old justice system down, and it differs from Western ways so he surprised me again and again.
Also the film itself takes some interesting turns that wouldn’t come up in an American film. At one point the young, spoiled kids agree to meet Mr Six and his cronies to resolve the matter with a big fight. The old guys show up, but the young ones don’t. I can’t remember a no-show like that in a Western film. Returning home, Mr. Six gets surrounded by henchmen sent by the rich kid’s dad. They proceed to threaten and beat him.
The film captivates and has stayed with me and will for quite some time.
Warning: Mr. Six will strangle and fight anyone who’s treating his son unjustly. It’s not as violent as The Godfather but there’s a lot of fighting and some blood.
Holy moly, what a film!
Paprika is another fabulous Satoshi Kon creation. It left me stunned by its mastery and left me wanting to figure out what exactly had I experienced.
I’m not a big anime fan so I don’t know much about the history or depth or breath of the art, but wow, Paprika took an art form to its limits. I never knew what to expect and while the basic story’s easy to follow, it’s till perplexing.
The story revolves around a group of psychologists who’ve developed a device called the DC mini that allows people to view another person’t dreams if they are also wearing a DC mini. Boy, I had no idea how bizarre some dreams might be. The technology gets out of the hands of its creators, who then go on a quest to protect this amazing invention, which has a purpose they realize isn’t only good.
From start to finish the film moves in and out of dream worlds that are colorful, boisterous, scary, and bizarre. Dr. Chiba, the lead female character is a very serious, very beautiful psychologist who’s often bickering with her obese, irresponsible colleague as they try to track down his assistant who’s taken the DC mini. Paprika is Chiba’s alter ego who mainly inhabits the world of dream. She’s a sexy, super girl, who rescues a cop who’s having a little existential crisis.
Yet Paprika is not a film about plot. It plays with plot and constantly twists and turns defying any expectations. It’s ultra cool and something any adventurous filmgoer should see. Once I get my VPN to work, I’ll find the trailer on YouTube and post it here.
Amazingly, Dutch film The Dinner has no characters that I liked, just one that I could pity, yet managed to keep me fascinated. Paul, the main character, has been out of work for years. His insertion of extreme political ideas in his history classes cost him his job. In contrast, his brother Serge is a successful politician on the verge of running for Prime Minister. The film centers on a dinner the brothers and their wives have so they can discuss how to deal with a troubling YouTube video of their sons harassing a homeless woman.
Paul narrates the film and offers some background on what happened to his family that influenced his son to get him to this place, how Paul’s temper and prejudices surfaced when he tried to repay a shop owner whose window his son broke and how he reacts to the principal who called him to discuss the extreme ideas his son used in an essay.
The dinner at a chic restaurant, that Paul could never afford, suspense and tension builds and slowly the nature of the son’s crime gets revealed. The characters surprise with their responses that I’d never have predicted. It’s a thoroughly modern film that grabbed my attention and held it.
When I was in Beijing, I went to the 798 Art Space. I’d been there a few years ago and this time it seemed more commercialized. While there were cafes and shops before there seem to be more or else there just seemed to be fewer galleries open. Some galleries have started to charge and although they just asked for 10 rmb, that adds up and in a country with so many fantastic museums that are free paying made no sense.
I was pleased that I figured out how to get out to 798 on public transportation. You can just take the subway to Dongzhimen and then a bus out to 798. Beijing cabbies overcharge tourists relentlessly.