Review: Beijing Bicycle

Now here’s a sadistic bike-centered flick that would have made Vittorio De Sica proud.

Beijing Bicycle
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Now here’s a sadistic bike-centered flick that would have made Vittorio De Sica proud. In Beijing Bicycle, Guei (Cui Lin) snags a job as a delivery messenger only to have his bicycle stolen on the very day he’s earned enough yuan to own it. Spoiled brat Jian (Li Bin), whose father is saving money to put the boy’s younger and smarter sister through school, can’t have a bicycle. Pushed over the edge by his father’s empty promises, Jian steals the family’s yuan in order to buy himself a bicycle at the local flea market. While Wang Xiaoshuai’s answer to The Bicycle Thief is thankfully sans screaming Italian children, the film lacks the bristly gravitas of De Sica’s neo-realist classic. Where Bicycle Thief’s vehicular-challenged paisan had reason to sulk, Xiaoshuai’s wimps are just that. Beijing’s score is self-important while its palette becomes too sensuous a backdrop for any kind of social commentary that may hide crippled beneath character pouting and brow-beating. Neo-realism may be pure but it’s unflinching to a fault. Xiaoshuai humorously celebrates Guei’s passivity when the boy gets suckered into a shower while on the job; it’s like pulling teeth, though, whenever someone has a revelation or backstory to declare. Beijing demands our suspension of disbelief when Jian and Guei quickly turn to violence, although Xiaoshaui spends little time with the boys in their respective family settings to explain their behaviors. Better though is Xiaoshuai’s transformation of Beijing’s streets into a virtual maze while subtly implicating teenage girls as instigators of chaos when Jian’s girlfriend Qin (Zhou Xun) finds herself drawn to the bike antics of a local punkster. By then, it might not matter than Xiaoshuai has spent most of Beijing beating his boys to a bloody pulp.

 Cast: Lin Cui, Xun Zhou, Yuanyuan Gao, Shuang Li, Yiwei Zhao, Yan Pang, Fangfei Zhou, Mengnan Li  Director: Wang Xiaoshuai  Screenwriter: Peggy Chiao, Hsu Hsiao-ming  Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics  Running Time: 113 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2001  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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