Beijing Bicycle (Sony Picture Classics) is a painful, but interesting story. So many injustices, small and great, take place in this movie that it’s hard to sit through. However, the story pulls the audience in, as we emotionally identify with the plights of a situation quite foreign to most Americans.
In China, a bike is a luxury not everyone can afford. Cars, though crowding the streets, are scarce enough among people that bicycles are often used to move refrigerators and mattresses. It then becomes understandable why a bicycle can mean so much to the characters involved. For some it is something to be proud of in a world where such things seldom exist.
Following in the tradition of dramatic Chinese films, Beijing Bicycle deals with the struggles of an average poor man in an unfair world. Guei (Cui Lin), a young man from the country, has just earned a bicycle from his new delivery job. To his dismay, it is stolen.
Fired from his job because he no longer has a bike, Gui vows to find the bike to get his job back. Long searches finally produce what he believes is his bike, in the hands of a boy in high school, Jian (Li Bib). Jian has been promised a bike for years by his parents, all to no avail. So it certainly seems suspicious when he turns up with a top-of-the-line bike his parents could never afford, resembling, of course, Guei’s bicycle. The two young men’s wills soon clash in a battle for the bike.
Surrounding this movie is an overall theme of inequity. The lower class is destitute. Jian is promised a bike for years, but doesn’t receive one, all the while fulfilling every condition his father demands. A bike, properly earned, is stolen. False accusations and misplaced blame abound.
Despite the immense injustice of the situations, relatively little emphasis is placed on the characters’ morality. This film casts few judgements, but instead gives a portrayal of the characters’ viewpoints. It is possible to have sympathies with multiple and conflicting figures. There exists no absolute morality in this film. Instead the characters are simply left to deal with the consequences of the their actions for better or worse.
This article appeared in the February 7, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.