Beijing Bicycle
review by Carrie Gorringe, 21 September 2001

26th Toronto International Film Festival

Beijing Bicycle, winner of the Silver Bear Award for Best Picture at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival, adds new dimensions to a situation outlined in Vittorio de Sica's 1948 neorealist classic, The Bicycle Thief. In the case of Beijing Bicycle, a young man named Guei (Cui Lin) a new "import" from the countryside who is desperate to work his way up from poverty, is one day's pay away from owning his mountain bike outright when it is stolen. As in de Sica's film, this incident spells potential disaster for Bicycle's protagonist: he not only can no longer work as a bicycle courier, but he must also reimburse the courier company for the cost of the bicycle; it was still the company's property. He must find it. Having extracted a promise from his manager that he can keep his job if he can return the bike, the young man goes in search of it. When he finds it, he discovers, to his surprise, that the thief, Jian (Li Bin) is not a professional criminal, but something else altogether: another teenager, much like himself, whose middle-class parents are making painful financial sacrifices to put their children through private schools; there is very little money left over for luxuries. Jian not only feels excluded from a social circle populated by students from wealthier families, but he has a crush on one of the girls, the attractive and intelligent Qin (Zhou Xin). Eager to feel as if he were truly part of the group, Jian somehow finds the money to purchase the courier's bicycle at a flea market, unaware of its origins. Not wanting to lose all of the privileges he has gained through the possession of the bicycle, Jian uses his gang of friends to keep it in his possession.

De Sica's film concentrated upon the search itself, and the psychological toll that it takes upon the relationship between father and son; Bicycle's main focus is the relationship between thief and owner: both, as it turns out, are victims in some way or another. The courier requires the bicycle for his very survival, but the teenager does as well, though not to the same degree. Although he is rightfully seen as a somewhat typically self-pitying adolescent, director Wang Xiao-Shuai also persuades the audience to understand the nature of his victimization. Surrounded by wealthier classmates, and struggling to keep up appearances (under the fear of being shunned and potentially prevented from meeting his parents' high social and economic expectations), his motivation for possessing the bicycle is understandable, though no less wrong.

The tone of each film is also different. De Sica's film, although cynical about human nature, is also filled with a sentimentality born of post-war outrage, an eulogy for a world where whatever respect individuals had for the common good was possible. Bicycle creates a world that observes all of the players at a "scientific" remove, thus allowing the audience to see all possible points of view.
Click on the titles below to read the reviews.


Directed by:
Xiaoshuai Wang

Lin Cui Xun Zhou Yuanyuan Gao Shuang Li Yiwei Zhao Yan Pang Fangfei Zhou Mengnan Li

Written by:
Peggy Chiao Hsiao-ming Hsu Danian Tang Xiaoshuai Wang

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.




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