Beijing Bicycle (2001) is about two teenagers. Guo (Cui Lin) comes from the country to earn money as a delivery boy. His bike is stolen and eventually ends up with Jian (Li Bin) who bought it from the original thief with stolen money. He wishes to have a bike so he can go riding with a girl he likes.
Guo and Jian cross paths when Guo and his friend discover the bike in Jian’s possession. When Guo tries to steal the bike back, he is stopped by Jian and a bunch of other kids. This does not stop him from following Jian home and stealing the bike back. As he was fired when the bike was stolen, Guo goes back and gets re-hired. However, Jian and his gang find Guo, beat him up and steal the bike back.
What begins to feel like a back and forth black comedy comes to a halt when Jian comes home later to find Guo with Jian’s father. Believing Jian to be the original thief of the bike, his father punishes him and gives the bike back to Guo. The film then gets back to one boy tracking another boy down when Jian and his gang find Guo later. The two finally agree to share the bike.
This works out until Jian discovers that his crush is with another man, Da Huan. Jian hurts the man with a brick. When he later tells Guo that he does not need the bike anymore, Da Huan and his gang find them together and beat them both up. The bike is also wrecked. Finally, Guo uses a brick to hit his attacker. The film closes with him taking his bike and leaving (Wang).
The most notable element that speaks to Chinese culture is the scene in which Guo and Jian agree to share the bike. As discussed in chapter 8 of the textbook, the socialist past of China was in transition to capitalism under the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This began in the 1980s and only increased in the 1990s leading up to the film's debut in 2001. Sharing the bike is an indicator of socialism in a country learning to adapt to Western values of capitalism.
While it could easily be argued that the film cannot translate into other cultures, the other themes throughout the film represent all cultures such as the transition from childhood to adulthood, sexuality, obstinance, and adversity. Because Guo is from the country, he is looked down upon, especially by Jian who fits in well with his urban surroundings, often sporting a suit.
The trailer to the film announces that Beijing Bicycles is from China’s Sixth Generation of Film Makers. The textbook discusses the revolution in cinema, saying that “the so-called Sixth Generation cinema…appeared in Mainland China in the 1990s” (Louie 315). The “underground” style of this generation of filmmakers led to little national income, so they often had to rely on outside income. The indie vibe of the film is a clear indicator of that cinematic movement.
The heavy traces of black comedy make the film shine. When Guo’s boss tells him that he can keep his job when he finds his bike, the irony is unavoidable considering the previous shots indicating that bicycles are one of China’s primary modes of transportation, and finding his stolen bike is nearly impossible for Guo. However, Guo has his bike stolen not just once but multiple times during the course of the film, yet he always manages to get it back.
More of these instances are noticeable during the comedic back and forth Guo and Jian go through in stealing the bike from one another. While admittedly funny, the story cannot justify the run time with repetition. Jian’s love story with his crush never feels fully realized, but is juxtaposed with Guo spying on a beautiful girl.
Comrades, Almost a Love Story (1996) is a not so typical love story between Qiao Li (Maggie Cheung) and XiaoJun Li (Leon Li) spanning ten years and two countries, Hong Kong and New York. The film opens with title cards marking March 1, 1986 as the beginning of those ten years, followed shortly by a scene of XiaoJun arriving in Hong Kong.
After experiencing the initial shock inherent when relocating from the country to the city, XiaoJun eventually connects with Qiao Li, a young woman working at McDonald's. She seemingly takes pity on him and helps him get into an English class. The class is run by an alcoholic (Christopher Doyle) who uses old Hollywood films as learning aids.
XiaoJun’s optimistic and naivety initially seems irreconcilable with Qiao Li’s cutthroat personality, but the two eventually fall into a friendship which is expounded by the metaphor “as easy as riding a bike. The film takes a time jump to Lunar New Year 1987, showing them bond over singer Teresa Teng and their mutual backgrounds as mainlanders. Later that night, the two become intimate, blurring the line between friendship and romance.
The affair ends with the stock market crash later that year. The two do not meet for three years. During that time, XiaoJun marries his fiancé and Qiao Li goes to work in a questionable massage parlor, meeting mob boss Pao in the process, who helps her open a shop, fulfilling her entrepreneurial dreams. When they meet once more, they indulge in a final meeting.
Once more they are separated when Pao is forced to leave Hong Kong. Qiao Li follows him to New York. Wrecked with guilt over the affair, XiaoJun confesses, winding up alone in New York himself. Eventually, the two reconnect while watching a Teresa Teng music video playing on the tv in a window display. The flashback to the original title card shows just how interwoven their fates have been since the beginning (Chan).
The film captures the social atmosphere of the post-modern People’s Republic of China (PRC). One of the focuses during the time was the issue with language throughout China. Eventually, the National People’s Congress of China would create the PRC Common Language and Script Law in 2000 (Louie 178). The need for this linguistic reform is evident, especially throughout the first part of the film with XiaoJun cannot converse with other city dwellers, specifically Qiao Li.
Similarly, the emphasis on becoming bilingual as a commodity is present throughout the film. Qiao Li lectures XiaoJun about his inability to speak English and the manager at McDonald's even asks XiaoJun if he speaks English after he says his Cantonese is poor. English, it would appear, is even more prevalent in Hong Kong than Mandarin.
Another representation of Chinese culture is during the scene from the Lunar Festival. The atmosphere of “Festivals are intended to be lively and real ‘hot and noisy,’” (Louie 178). This is embodied during the scene and emphasized with the directors editing decisions. The quick cuts, time jumps, and layering of the couple and other vendors yelling over each other represents the noise, while the rain presents the opportunity for steam rising in the streets for an overall hazy feeling.
As the film progressed, it became bogged down with unnecessary subplots. From what I understand, the actress who played “Rosie” was a veteran in the industry. Had this been a lesser-known actress, her only role would have been giving XiaoJun a place to stay when he arrived in Hong Kong. Instead, her William Holden obsession becomes intrusive and pads the two-and-a-half-hour runtime. However, the lead actors and director still managed to create a gentle magic with this film.
Louie, Kam. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Chinese Culture. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Wang, Xiaoshuai, director. Beijing Bicycle. 2001. IMDb, www.imdb.com/title/tt0276501/.
Chan, Peter, director. Comrades: Almost a Love Story. 1996. IMDb, www.imdb.com/title/tt0117905/.