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Beijing Bicycle
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by Spinner

"Two boys, one bike, something has to give."
3 stars

A simple film, two straightforward parallel narratives that eventually collide in a battle for a bicycle. Itís always accessible and charming but sometimes naÔve. The latter being both its strength and its weakness.

The bicycle is not just part of life in China, for some it is a way of life. When a young country boy, Guo (Lin Cui)lands a dream job at a bike courier company he is given a brand new bicycle. This may well be the most important moment in his life, offering a bright future and not just a means of transport. But he will have to work to pay it off so he will eventually own it.

And work he does, with a fixation that is almost religious and a devotion to his bicycle that borders on compulsion. He even makes secret markings on the frame to identify it as his own.

In a cruel twist of fate, just one day before he makes the final instalment the bicycle is stolen while he is picking up a package. Guo is devastated. His situation made significantly worse when his employer fires him Ė not because his bicycle was stolen, but because, wrapped in his sorrow, he failed to complete the job in hand and deliver his parcel (on foot) in time.

But Guo is determined and stubborn. Eventually his boss agrees that he will re-hire him if he finds his bicycle. A task akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack in the spoke city that is Beijing.

Meanwhile in a not too distant part of town, another young man, Qin (Xun Zhou)has purchased Guoís stolen bicycle with money stolen from his own family Ė money destined for his younger sisterís education.

For this young man the issue of owning a decent bicycle is largely related to social status and dissatisfaction with his fatherís broken promises. Perched on his new bicycle he is surrounded by a band of school friends who hang together and he seems destined to get the girl of his dreams.

Thus the parallels are drawn. One who needs the bike for status and one who needs the bike for his livelihood.
Naturally Guo finds his bicycle, steals it back and regains his job, but this is not the end of the story. Rather it is the beginning of the inevitable confrontation that the boys must have. A confrontation which is morally muddied because Qin bought the bike in good faith and has since added new handlebars and a saddle to it.

After much action and counteraction the boys eventually come to a kind of short term resolution, until one of them decides to forfeit his right to the cherished bicycle.

This would have been a good place to end the story, but sometimes it seems that directors donít know when to stop and there is a change in fortunes and events that once more finds the boys trapped in each otherís destinies. A duality that threatens to destroy that which they have both worked so hard to keep.

Beijing Bicycle has many things going for it. The overall look of the film is at times numbingly beautiful. The labyrinth of lanes and alleys and rooftops capture the daily life patterns of ordinary poor people and the claustrophobic existence of life in an overpopulated environment. Anyone who has experienced Asia will find this familiar and strangely romantic turf.

As would be expected wheels feature a lot in this film and they are evocatively photographed.

The performances are mostly naturalistic, only on occasion bursting into hyper-acting. This term is used instead of overacting because the style reflects the theatrical culture of the region and it should not be measured against western standards.

There are some subplots that go nowhere and are very unnecessary to the storyline and overall the pacing is slow and the running time a bit on the long side, but not so long that it becomes irritating at the expense of the overall experience.

Beijing Bicycle has a charm of its own and at times it is genuinely moving. However at other times the same charm works against it in a slapstick way that undermines its intentions leaving an audience chuckling at moments of misfortune.

Worth seeing as an antidote to some of the crap Hollywood fare in our cinemas but Beijing Bicycle is not representative of the best of Asian cinema. For more rewarding and emotionally challenging viewing get 'Cyclo' out on video instead.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5722&reviewer=288
originally posted: 02/23/02 23:40:50
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USA
  25-Jan-2002 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Feb-2002


Directed by
  Wang Ziao-Shuai

Written by
  Wang Ziao-Shuai

Cast
  Zhou Xun
  Cui Lin
  Li Bin



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