Beijing Bicycle

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Last night we watched the movie Beijing Bicycle and it really was great – if not a little depressing. It started off as the story of a country boy who had come to the city to find work to support his family. He was provided with a really good bicycle, a new silver mountain bike. He started out at a low rate of pay(something like 20/80% cut out of every delivery cost) which would rise(50/50) once he had earned 600 yuan. He would also then own the bike. Everything was going along swimmingly until of course the bike was stolen.

Enter the second character. Here we start to learn about a second boy, a local Beijinger who happens to live in the Lake Houhai area. This was cool as we were very familiar with this area – having stayed there when we were in Beijing. This area is also famous for its Hutongs(courtyard homes). This second boy has been promised for years by his father that he would be getting a bicycle…and hasn’t. His father promised if he was in the top 5 of his class he would buy it – then something else, then something else again until such time as his younger sisters tuition at a good school then became more important, and well, no bicycle. So of course he takes fate into his own hands, steals the tuition money and goes and buys the bicycle…which just happens to be the bike poor country boy has lost.
What then happens is a very odd, depressing and in the end almost enlightening relationship between the two boys as they vie for control of the bicyle. There is in fact a third character, and that is the bicycle. What the movie pulls off absolutely perfectly is how these two boys from different backgrounds, both impossibly poor in their own ways, put different values on the bike. The bike can and does change both of their lives in different ways.

It is odd to think of a mere bicycle as anything of real worth, coming from a culture where effectively every adult member of the households here owns a car. There was one scene in the movie where I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but a rich neighbour pulled up in a hatchback car outside what was really just a shanty little shop – something we would see very regularly. This car then put into perspective just how small the bicycle was – compared to the wealth that allowed this probable middle-class woman to comfortably purchase a car. Yet here is this bicycle, the very centre of wealth and lifestyle to these two poor kids from different backgrounds.

Guei, the 'country boy.' I felt for this guy.

The movie was quiet and moved at a slow pace – very arthouse. I really really enjoyed it. Part of the appeal to us was the fact that it all looked so familiar. Every time we see Chinese documentaries or movies now, we take more from them. While in China we experienced all these things as spectators. We couldn’t really comprehend a lot of the more meaningful sides to events due to the language barrier. There is only so much you can comprehend visually. When you put human conversation alongside it, it takes on a completely different meaning.

The other side to the movie that I found highly interesting is that it doesn’t matter what culture you come from or how much money you have. Potentially, we can all be equally as cruel to each other as the next person.

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One Response to “Beijing Bicycle”

  1. Chinese movies float not the western boat « Life After China Says:

    […] I have a keen interest in Mandarin movies. Not only are they a terrific study aid, but it also gives me a buzz whenever I recognize familiar words. It’s a challenge and a half finding Mandarin movies as is, considering so many of the international releases are coming from Hong Kong – which of course is Cantonese, to which I have absolutely zero interest. The biggest problem with most Mandarin movies; the big ones that are actually subtitled, is that they’re all period epics! While I loved the movie Red Cliff, I’d rather be watching current day dramas such as Beijing Bicycle. […]

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