Beijing Bicycle - reviewed by R.S. Lee
"Beijing Bicycle"A film by Wang Xiaoshua Drama 1 Hr. 53 Min. PG-13, China, 2002 Released in the US
Guo, a country boy who comes to the city in seeking of livelihood and lands on a job in Beijing as an express delivery messenger boy. The company supplies him the bicycle which will be deducted from his salary until it is paid off. On the day he is about to own the bike, the bike is stolen. Not only he loses the bike but his job as well. He makes a deal with the boss that if he finds his bike, he can have his job back. Meanwhile, Qin, a high school kid from the lower middle income family is riding his new second hand bike which he claims to have purchased in the market. Qin needs the bike to keep up with his more affluent classmates and to hang out with Xiao, the rich and pretty schoolmate. Eventually, Guo finds the bike and tries to get it back but was chased by Qin and his classmates. After the failed attempt, Guo goes to Qin's father. It ends up that Qin had stolen money from his father in order to buy the bike. Furious, Qin's father tells Guo to take the bike back and punishes Qin. Qin feels cheated, therefore he and his classmates trap Guo in a vacant construction building and attempt to take the bike. After all the ordeal, Guo held on to the bike with his life. At the end, they have made a deal so that Guo and Qin will share the bike in alternate dates. The days that Guo doesn't have the bike, he will run for the deliveries. Qin can still keep up with his affluent classmates when it is his turn. This goes on for a while until Qin, out of anger and jealousy, hits a gang leader with a brick for dating Xiao. A little shell shocked himself, Qin returns the bike to Guo and tells him that Guo can keep the bike. Before they depart, the gang comes after them. Both of them try to escape but eventually trap in a courtyard. Qin and Guo are beaten up badly and the bike is trashed. Still delirious from the beating, Guo picks up the bike and stumbles away. The last scene, we see the triumphant hero, Guo with the broken bike on his shoulder walking though the traffics of Beijing.
This can very well be a cliché touchy dramatic film. But the way Wang executes it, we see the story slowly unfolds in an unpredictable manner. There is a sense of hopelessness that prevails in the film as in DeSica's "The Bicycle thief". But unlike "The Bicycle thief", the film uses the bicycle as a tool to explore the lives of the youths in Beijing today. As a Taiwanese born Chinese-American, I have never been to China. Through this film I can get a voyeuristic view into the life of the people in Beijing. I was surprised at the modernity and social factors these youths have portrayed. Modern skyscrapers, the gang with dyed hair are all quite westernized and yet, we still see people deliver a refrigerator or a wardrobe cabinet on bicycles. The film made a clear distinction between Qin and Guo. Guo needs the bike for his livelihood. Qin needs the bike for status. None of the kids are at fault. Qin eventually got punished because of his vanity. Guo is the poor naïve country bumpkin who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But he still came out as the winner. Both come from different backgrounds, their lives collide because of the bicycle. Either good or bad, the bicycle had taught them a valuable lesson in growing up and in life.
Wang Xiaoshua is the sixth generation director which differs from the fifth generation directors such as Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. The Fifth generation filmmakers tend to make historic epic films where Wang and the sixth generation tend to portray the modern life and social values of China. From the interview with NPR, Wang claims that his films are not well received by the Chinese government due to the lack of showing the beautiful side of China. Instead he shows the real and sometimes ugly side. This is the type of film I think the world is anticipating. It is extremely interesting to see how today's China deals with the modern world. Communism had pushed China back 20 years. Twenty years ago, if one goes to China, or even watch the television show, one can feel as if they still live in the Sixties. The way they talk and act still carries the Communist revolutionary regime. Now a days, if we watches a news program, we can see how the tone of voice and presentation have drastically changed. They are no different than the rest of the modern world. That is another reason we need more of the 6th Gen filmmakers to make films that can express this interesting social changes as China is trying to catch up with the rest of the modern world.