Monday, 1 October 2007

Beijing Bicycle (2001)

Chinese title: Seventeen Year Old's Bicycle.

Beijing Bicycle (2001), Chinese drama filmThis movie is overdue for 2 reasons.

1. I was wondering for years when is the Bicycle Kingdom - as China was nicknamed - going to make a movie about bicycle. The movie was made in 2001, and by then bicycles in Beijing accounts for only 30-40% on the road (my guesstimate), compare to in the early 1980s when the country had just opened up, about 85 - 95% of the bicycles filled the streets of Beijing. Today, sadly that number drops further leading to ridiculous traffic congestion and pollution.

2. The life of a Chinese migrant worker adjusting to life in the big smoke. Chinese migrant workers build the modern China in the last 3.2 decades, literally.

The two 17 year olds symbolise the 2 diverging worlds in China - the city and the rural. And their concerns are of course just as different as their background. While the city boy is concerned with such thing that most typical 17 year old does in the developed economy, the country boy's concern is much more basic.

This movie is a cross between Zhang Yimou's Not One Less and Jian Wen's In the Heat of the Sun. Actually it's a film made up of 2 neat parts from the 2 above mentioned movies.

Let's look at the 1st part. Like teacher Wei in Not One Less, Guo the courier boy in this movie are both from the countryside who are totally ignorant in the way of the city, and they both are absolutely determined to find some(one/thing) that they lost in the city. Against all odds, they eventually find what they are looking for.

The only difference is, after Guo finds what he was looking for - his bicycle - it's just the start of his troubles.

The 2nd part of the movie is more similar to In the Heat of the Sun from rivalry for girl, boys behaving like typical 17 year olds, right down to the brick to the head (seems like the trendy thing to do among the Chinese youth).

Unlike the other 2 movies, this one is slightly more light hearted. But behind the humour lies the bitter struggle of the typical migrant worker - our 17 year-old country kid - and his culture shock and difficulty in adapting to the city way of life. All this compounds with his unusual attachment to his bicycle. This is understandable because the bicycle is a concrete symbol of his 1st accomplishment in the city - his pride and joy. In his father's generation, a bicycle would in fact a status symbol, a symbol of adulthood. Something akin to a 1st car in the West. This is the concern of our 17 year-old city kid. Despite the lighter touch, the movie is quite touching in parts.

Lots of sceneries of the how people live in Beijing hutongs are being featured in this movie because bicycles make sense in the narrow hutongs, which are too small for cars.

No serious director can make a decent film about China today without tackling the myriad of social issues brought about by the enormous changes occurring in China due to its Opening Up / industrialisation / modernisation / Westernisation. And many, includes this film address the clashes between the 2 worlds of the new and the old, and the city and the countryside, and they are symbolic of the struggles between the two 17 year olds.

It won 3 international film awards.


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