Culture: Analysis of Wheel Life Loses Direction

The Birmingham Post (England), August 16, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Culture: Analysis of Wheel Life Loses Direction

Beijing Bicycle Cert PG, 113 mins subtitled

It's the old story. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again. Except that, instead of a girl, it's a bike. There are millions of them in modern-day Beijing, so it seems an appropriate place for Wang Xiaoshuai to remake the 60s Italian neorealist classic The Bicycle Thieves as a commentary on how the new economy has altered the class divisions of the market society of China.

Country boy Guei arrives in the city and lands himself a job with the Fei Da Express Delivery messenger service. They bathe him, cut his hair and give him a shiny new mountain bike which he has to pay for out of his wages. It's a good job and an interesting city, and Guei is fascinated by the new wealth that enables the girl living in the high-rise apartment opposite the grocer's shack he shares with a friend to have an apparently limitless supply of clothes.

An industrious worker, Guei is one payment away from making the bike his own when he emerges from his last pick-up to find it's been stolen. Devastated, he forgets to deliver the letter and is fired. However, his boss agrees to reinstate him if he finds the bike.

Amazingly, he does. It has, it transpires, been bought from a local market by Jian, a highschool student from a poor family who stole money from his dad because having a bike meant he was able to fit in with his peers and, more importantly, impress an attractive classmate.

So there you have it. One needs it for class status, one needs it for economic survival. Unfortunately, it's at this point that the narrative's tyres start rapidly deflating as a tug-of-war erupts between Guei and Jian, stealing the bike back and forth from each other with an awful lot of beatings and running and riding around Beijing before they come to a brief sharing arrangement, only to have matters turn unexpectedly tragic as things pedal up to the finishing line.

Such a swerve into melodrama suggests that, while the film is beautifully made and finely acted by its nonprofessional cast, Wang Xiaoshuai was aware that his themes concerning the clashes between different aspects (country/city, young/old, rich/poor etc) of Chinese life under the new capitalism were getting a bit heavy-handed and the film was becoming tiresomely repetitive and boring and so needed a kick up the saddle. The violent climax certainly jolts you over the handle-bars, but in terms of holding your interest the chain came off long ago.


Comment J'ai Tu Mon Pre

Cert 15, 98 mins subtitled Ah, the French.

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