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Beijing Bicycle
  |     review    |     awards     |     availability     | "This bicycle is my life..."
Everyone loves bicycles
Chinese: 十七歲的單車
Year: 2001
Director: Wang Xiaoshuai
  Producer: Michael Chiao, Peggy Chiao
  Cast: Zhou Xun, Cui Lin, Li Bin, Gao Yuanyuan
  The Skinny: Beijing Bicycle is the single greatest movie about a boy losing his bike since Pee Wee's Big Adventure! And that's a compliment. Really.
Review by Calvin McMillin

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 mission."

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)

Awards: 2001 Berlin International Film Festival
• New Talent Award (Cui Lin, Li Bin)
• Silver Berlin Bear (Wang Xiaoshuai)
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
Mandarin and French Language Tracks
Removable English and Spanish Subtitles

image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen