Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Wang Xiaoshui
Stars: Cui Lin, Li Bin.
The latest film from Columbia Tristar’s Silk Screen collection, Beijing Bicycle is an occasionally funny but nonetheless acutely observed film which again explores how the individual triumphs over an often impersonal system. As Vittorio De Sica’s classic humanist tale The Bicycle Thief became a metaphor for the chaos of post-war Italy, so too is Wang Xiaoshui’s film a deceptively simple tale that explores the troubled core of modern China as it embraces the changing nature of society at the end of the 20th century.
Seventeen-year old country boy Guei (Cui Lin) leaves behind his village and comes to Beijing to find work. He lands a job as a bicycle courier. His first few weeks on the job are spent mainly paying off the prized mountain bike he is given as part of the job. But then just as he has almost paid it off, his treasured bicycle is stolen, and Guei loses his job. Meanwhile, Jai (Li Bin), a spoiled city boy who is annoyed at his father’s failure to buy him a bicycle, steals money from his family and buys a second hand bike from a market in order to impress his friends and a girl at school. As chance would have it he has purchased Guei’s bike. Guie has been desperately combing the city for his bicycle and when he discovers it in Jai’s possession he sets out to get it back.
The struggle between the two youths over possession of the stolen bicycle became representative of the dichotomy within modern day China, and subtly explores the class struggle and divisions that exist. Beijing Bicycle also explores the difference between rural China and life in the city, between the traditions of old China and the pragmatic economic rationalism of contemporary China.
Beijing Bicycle has been beautifully directed by Xiaoshui, who slowly builds the tension to a climax that is unexpected and disturbing. Liu Jie’s exquisite cinematography also enriches the film. Jie captures images of a city in transition, and the film resonates with an awareness of a lifestyle that is slowly disappearing.