Beijing Bicycle Reviews
This movie is depressing as sin, but really good and the development of the characters is solid.
With "Beijing Bicycle" comes another motion picture dealing with class structure and the economics of capitalism and communism. However, Wang Xiaoshuai's choice of repeating certain scenes along with long pauses without any dialogue works against the film rather than enhance it.
"Beijing Bicycle" is basically a retooling of Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicycle Thief", one of the greatest films of all time. That latter, however, accomplishes far more in its 93-minute running time than Wang's meandering 113-minute effort. After a while, you almost want to talk back to the screen and say, "I got the message! Now, would you please move along?"
"Beijing Bicycle" is a nice effort but in the end overstays its welcome. The film could use a little more time in the editing room.
Xiaoshuai Wang's indirect homage to De Sica's Bicycle Thieves is a mildly interesting tale. The film follows two protagonists; a poor slum kid named Guo (Lin Cui) with a new job to deliver mail and a new bicycle, and a high school boy of around 15 named Jian (Bin Li), who is having some problems at home when it comes to getting his dad to buy him a bicycle (they are kind of poor).
The film isn't so piercingly real or really deep or anything. It takes a look at social conditions but doesn't say anything too deep about the people in the story. It's more enjoyable from an action perspective, and less with the ideas it's presenting. The whole situation with Guo and his boss after he loses his bicycle is depicted in a funny and sad way; Guo's journey in the rest of the film is to find his bike and save his job; his boss tells him if he can do this, he can keep his job.
We meet Jian and he has a bike, which looks just like the one Guo lost. Jian's story starts as out as a budding romance with a schoolmate named Xiao. She and he bike around together and whatnot and he is beginning to feel something for her, and perhaps she may be as well. This part of the story is one of the weaker elements, the grade-school romance or whatever you want to call it. Thankfully, Guo finds this bike in the hands of Jian, and the rest of the film becomes mostly a back and forth battle for ownership of the bike, which rapidly spirals out of control. Jian says he didn't steal the bike and that he got it some other way, but Guo is certain it is his stolen bike. The romance takes a back seat, but for some reason or another Wang can't seem to get rid of it completely or focus on it enough to give it any real emotional investment.
Jian's friends are like a school gang, a pretty petty one that will use 5 on 1 attacks to make their point. The film devolves pretty quickly into repetition once this group of kids is introduced halfway through, and I felt the story handed over its subtlety and its social class/economic message when it got too deep into the teen angst/ teen anger area. I admired the film more when it was about the bike, and the desperation of finding it. That is what makes Guo's parts of the film the best, because he wants the bike at all costs, both for personal fulfillment and to keep his job (which supplied him with the bike in the first place). He is still a pretty simple and non-verbal character with little of interest to say, but that's why his actions and motivations keep the interest going, because he's not a character we rely on for deep vocal insights.
When the film makes a return to the relationship I felt cheated and short-changed again. Jian's bike obsession and his naivety in relationships have caused Xian to distance herself from him. She moves on, but he can't. I wasn't sold on how the film ended, even though it was mildly interesting and enjoyable. The film turns toward an inexplicable showcase of violence from various directions, and I was scratching my head trying to answer the question "Is this just violence for the sake of violence, or is there some meaning?" I concluded that perhaps there was a meaning to the violence however vague it may be, but that it nonetheless seemed idiotic no matter how you sliced it. The characters all devolve toward the simplest possible motivations, including the two protagonists, which really aren't very likeable to begin with, and who I felt pretty indifferent towards by the end as well; and thats after both of them go through hell.
The camera shows some flavourful visuals of Beijing, the layout of some of the slums are explored in some chase scenes and some biking scenes. I was actually more interested in the little details of the city and the small crevices explored than I was with much of the story. This isn't a bad film, it just could have been way better. It lingers on the surface too often, and when it dives it seems only comfortable in the shallow end.