Beijing Bicycle (2001)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Urban Drama  |   Release Date - Jan 25, 2002 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 113 min.  |   Countries - China , France , Taiwan   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Tom Wiener

The inevitable comparison of Beijing Bicycle to Vittorio De Sica's neorealist classic The Bicycle Theif isn't inappropriate. Both films focus on a working-class male whose bicycle is crucial to his employment, which, in turn, is crucial to his survival. And both depict a city in transition. In De Sica's film, it's Rome rebuilding after World War II; in this story, the backdrop is Beijing, with gleaming skyscrapers and video arcades, not to mention economic opportunities for an immigrant class. Guei (Cui Lin) is a country boy whose determination to make a living as a bicycle messenger is matched by his determination to recover his stolen bike against immense odds. But there is a second striver in this story; Jian (Li Bin), a high-school kid resentful of his father's continual postponement of the purchase of a bicycle. (There are neatly portrayed glimpses of Jian's home life, involving a second marriage for both parents and a favored younger stepsister.) Jian needs a bike to fit in with his buddies as well as to romance a classmate. The middle section of the drama sags a bit with too many scenes of back-and-forth possession of the bike. And the inconclusive ending may leave some viewers indifferent to the characters' fates, but it's possible to see it as reflecting a measure of integrity. The film may prove to be a time capsule in more ways than one, as reports out of Shanghai about authorities curbing bicycle use in that city will surely lead to a Chinese cityscape that will look very different from the one depicted here.