out of five
: 113 mins
Moving, bittersweet drama that’s one of the best films of the year –
superbly acted and beautifully shot, with great location work and an
Every so often, a foreign film will appear on our screens that goes on to achieve that elusive element known as ‘crossover success’ – think Amores Perros, Together, or more recently, Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Seek It Out!
Beijing Bicycle is fully deserving of such success (along with the upcoming Nine Queens), although it may not get the marketing push that it needs. To that end, this is a film to be sought out before it disappears, as you’ll be rewarded with one of the best films of the year. Be warned though – despite the ‘PG’ rating, the film contains some sequences that are deeply upsetting.
The story, initially, is almost identical to Vittorio De Sica’s Italian
neo-realist classic Bicycle Thieves. Guei (Cui Lin), a poor, uneducated young man from the country comes to Beijing and secures a job as a bicycle courier.
He is given a brand new silver mountain bike, which he is told he can pay off gradually. However, with one day to go before the bike is his, it gets stolen and he finds himself without a job. The manager tells him if he can find his bike (he's carved a mark into it), he can have his job back. He scours the city looking for it...
Meanwhile, we meet Jian (Li Ban), another 16 year old, a schoolboy from a hard-working family. He has a brand new silver mountain bike, which he tells his friends his father bought for him. Did he steal it? Or did he buy it from the flea market? Eventually Guei tracks him down and then...well...then the story becomes less predictable.
There’s a lot to admire here, not least the gorgeous photography and
terrific location work – Sixth Generation film-maker Wang Xiaoshuai (the term refers to a younger generation of film-makers, who are concerned with stories of social dislocation) gets maximum use out of authentic locations, such as Beijing's streets and intricate alleyways (which are, according to the director, gradually disappearing).
There are many great scenes, including one that involves beautiful Gao
Yuanyuan (from Suzhou River), as a seemingly rich woman that two of the characters are obsessed with – the sequence where she turns up to buy soy sauce and we hear her shoes approaching and then the camera follows them in close-up all the way to the stall and back – all without dialogue - is one of the film’s highlights.
Both lead actors give strong, naturalistic performances that add greatly to the film so that you clearly feel just exactly how much ownership of the bicycle means to the two boys. To that end, there’s yet another great scene where they eventually come to an agreement over the bike and there's a lovely montage that illustrates this, capped with a terrific punch-line that shows that the film is not without humour.
Having said that, although it is a lovely little film in many ways, to
describe it as a 'feel-good' movie would be doing it a great disservice. (A knowledge of Bicycle Thieves is certainly an advantage). Accordingly, the climactic sequence is upsetting and immensely powerful –it’s certainly stronger in its emotional impact than the PG rating would suggest.
To sum up then, Beijing Bicycle is one of the best films of the year so far. Impeccably directed and acted, with great location work and a superb soundtrack, this is well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.