Beijing Bicycle

on January 11, 2002 by Kevin Courrier
In Vittorio De Sica's masterful "The Bicycle Thief," a stolen bicycle became an emblem that set a man against his own impoverished surroundings. In the equally rewarding "Beijing Bicycle," the stolen bicycle is instead an emblem of class conflict. Director Wang Xiaoshuai creates a poignant and bittersweet picture of life in modern China. In the newly industrialized world of Beijing, the bike is not merely a mode of transportation, but also a key to one's identity and self-worth.

   At 17, Guei (Cui Lin) decides to leave his provincial village to find a new life in the city. He begins work as a bicycle courier, managing to make a meagre salary until he can pay off the cost of his lustrous mountain bike. Just at the moment when he almost gains possession of his treasure, the bicycle is stolen. Guei, who is fired from his job, combs the city in search of his lost possession. What Guei doesn't know is that Jian (Li Bin), a wealthy city boy, has bought Guei's bike from a local flea market. For Jian, whose father has denied him a bicycle so they can send his sister to school, the vehicle is merely a tool to impress a new girlfriend, Qin (Zhou Xun), and gain status with his friends. Before long, both young men confront each other to finally decide who is to gain possession of the bicycle.

   "Beijing Bicycle" has a blithely comic air that slowly turns tragic. Xiaoshuai lets us take in the rapid pulse of the city alongside Guei, so we gradually come to see that owning the bike is a major step for him to becoming an adult with proprietorship and responsibility. Jian, on the other hand, comes to see that having the bike does little to take away his anxiety at feeling that he barely matters in life. "Beijing Bicycle" is a startling and fresh examination of how the bike still remains an ambiguous icon in Chinese society. Starring Cui Lin, Lee Bin, Zhou Xun, Gao Yuanyuan and Lee Shuang. Directed by Wang Xiaoshuai. Written by Wang Xiaoshuai, Tang Danian, Peggy Chiao and Hsu Hsiao-ming. Produced by Peggy Chiao and Fabienne Vonier. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Chinese-language, subtitled. Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief nudity. Running time: 113 min. Opens 2/15/02.

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