This chapter explores contemporary films set in Beijing, to examine how the city's protagonists are contextualised within the architecture and landscape of China's state capital, and how the city is spatially depicted and imagined amidst a time of immense technological change. Our investigation of Mr Six (Lao Paoer, directed by Guan Hu, 2015), illustrates how citybased films shape perceptions of a city beyond the glamourised images of technocratic metropoles designed to stimulate tourism found in international blockbusters such as Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes, 2012). This chapter draws from Edward W Soja's discussions on the trialectical relation between space, social relations and history — particularly the ‘Thirdspace’ (based on Lefebvre's Production of Space), which combines material, physical and mental or cognitive spaces into a conceptual site that includes ‘the knowable and the unimaginable and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary’ (Soja 1996, p. 56). Mr Six serves as a postscript to an earlier Beijing-based film about disaffected youth, In the Heat of the Sun (Yangguang can lan de rizi, directed by Jiang Wen, 1994), enabling us to see how the cinematic view of the city has changed in the intervening decades.
The eponymous Mr Six (a.k.a. Zhang Xuejun, played by famed director and sometime actor Feng Xiaogang, who also appears in the earlier film as the central figure's teacher, the hapless Mr Hu) is a former youth gang member, now a revered fixture in his local community, well respected for his grassroots approach to justice. When his wayward son goes missing, presumed kidnapped, Mr Six wanders the streets and alleyways of Beijing looking for him. When he locates his son, Mr Six becomes entangled in a generational struggle between an organised group of wealthy young upstarts and his own band of ageing gang members.
Amidst a background of poverty, crime, corruption and violence a dystopian view emerges in Mr Six, where technologies (mostly mobile phones and the internet) permeate everyday life, but offer little respite from the harsh realities of the city. The constant street-level activities reflect Michel de Certeau's (1984) concept of walking as an effective way of conducting space practice, where walkers resist the rules and orders imposed by city planners, governments or other institutional bodies.