Who would have thought a movie about
a bicycle messenger would be so damn compelling? I certainly didn't.
But it's amazing how quickly Beijing Bicycle pulls you into
its harrowing, surprisingly brutal story of a boy and his lost bike.
Guei (Cui Lin) is a simple kid from
the country who gets hired on as a bicycle delivery boy in Beijing.
Though the job is challenging, the messenger service offers its
employees one alluring incentive: if you work hard enough, the bicycle
is yours to keep. Upon hearing this, Guei works his tail off to
earn the bike. But just before the final payment, Guei's bicycle
disappears, and the messenger service promptly fires him. The owner
offers a reprieve: if Guei can get the bike back, the job is his
again. Of course, the owner doesn't believe for a second that the
boy will find his bicycle. But then again, he doesn't know Guei
very well. Plucky, resourceful and totally committed to finding
his missing bike, our hero Guei is the proverbial "man on a
After some frantic searching, Guei
soon discovers that his lost bicycle has fallen into the hands of
Jian (Li Bin), a clean-cut, seemingly nice guy student who bought
the bike secondhand from a flea market. But Jian isn't what he seems.
After Guei snatches his bike back, Jian reveals himself to be a
whiny brat with an overbearing sense of his own importance. In Jian's
eyes, the bike is his entitlement, no matter who the original owner
was. The two boys spend the rest of the movie stealing the bike
back from each other with Guei taking a beating each time. Unfortunately
for the loner Guei, his rival Jian has a gang of bicycle toughs
who will back him up no matter which boy is truly in the right.
A compromise is brokered eventually, but in the end, Jian's arrogance
and jealousy threaten to destroy it all.
The tonal shift that occurs in Bejing
Bicycle is worth mentioning. The film begins as a sweet coming
of age story, symbolized by the simple joy of riding a bicycle.
But the first time Guei takes his bike back, the gloom and doom
of the adult world makes its appearance. In this mode, innocence
is forgotten and brutality, envy, and arrogance take its place.
Thankfully, pretty girls Zhou Xun and Gao Yuanyuan (as the object
of Jian's affection) appear from time to time to brighten up the
proceedings, giving us a break from the testosterone-laden violence
that dominates the majority of the film.
Some may find Jian's behavior in the
final scenes to be completely illogical, but it is that very irrationality
that makes his actions true to life. Who says teenagers are logical?
Unfair and depressing as it may be, Bejing Bicycle's unflinchingly
realistic ending is appropriate, for in real life, even nice guys
like Guei end up taking the fall with the Jians of this world. Now,
if only someone would have explained to the characters the ethics
of purchasing stolen property, maybe the ending of Beijing Bicycle could have been averted. (Calvin McMillin, 2003)