Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Zhou Xun and Gao YuanYuan in "Beijing Bicycle"

Beijing Bicycle is a 2001 film by Wang Xiaoshuai that begins as a story of young love and becomes a harrowing, blood drenched look at class conflict and the its potentially murderous consequences in China's capital city. It begins with shots of men from the countryside being interviewed as bicycle messengers for a busy document delivery company. They are the almost perfectly unsophisticated, unable to estimate how much they were paid while in the country and willing to do just about any job available. One of them is Guei who becomes the top earner in the company, able to make enough in a month to buy the mountain bike and getting a much better payout from the company. Guei lives with Mantis an older friend/cousin who has a tiny store in an alley, where they are able to look upon Qin, a resident of a luxury building that overlooks their alley. Qin, played by Zhou Xun, is as much a part of the "real" Beijing as the building she lives in or the high fashion outfits she wears. Their only contact with her is when she stops into the store occasionally to buy soy sauce.

The day that Guei finishes paying for his bike it is stolen and he is fired. Since the bike is the only way Guei can earn enough to stay in Beijing and also because he has a single-minded determination to find his it, he tracks it down. The bike is with Jian, a working class teenager who strives to be like the group of guys in his class at a private school and who are from wealthier families than he. The bike itself is an example of this--Jian doesn't have a bicycle when we first encounter him but is able to buy a used bike--Guei's bike. His friends all have new bikes given them by their parents, people who could live in the same type of apartment as Qin, the unobtainable beauty who entrances Guei. Jian now fits in with his buddies and has the self confidence to approach Xiao a beautiful classmate who, it turns out, has had her eye on him. She is played by Gao Yuanyuan.

Neither of the young actresses in this film have much to do. Zhou Xun's character is superfluous to the plot and structure of the movie--her scenes could be cut and not missed. Qin's story could be told as a short film in itself. Gao Yuanyuan has more screen time than Zhou Xun and Xiao, unlike Qin, actually has a few lines to speak.

This is not a review or summary of Beijing Bicycle but only serves to establish the characters played by Gao Yuanyuan and Zhou Zun.

First Zhou Xun, dressed and made up in borrowed finery, comes with her bottle to filled with soy sauce. Guei and Mantis can are so finely attuned to her movements that they can hear the "tip-tap" of her high heels from around the corner.

Having effortlessly cast her spell on the guys she leaves.

It isn't until much later in the film that Guei literally runs into Qin as he turns into the alley without looking. Oops.

Qin suffers from the malady that affects the characters played by beautiful young actresses: even after being run over and knocked unconscious her hair still falls perfectly around her face, her make-up remains unsmeared and the only apparent injury is a tread mark on her arm.

She awakes from her collision induced slumber, looks around and tries to figure out what is going on.

Qin returns the next day and desperately goes through everything in the tiny house/store, wordlessly trying to find something that she may have lost there and slumps in dejection when she is unsuccessful.

Zhou Xun doesn't get to do much but looks ravishing during every second she is on screen not doing it.

We first see Gao YuanYuan as Xiao when she encounters Jian in a well done "meet cute" scene that centers around a bicycle--hers in this case. She needs help with it but seems reticent to ask although she overcomes her shyness.

They become something of a couple. On a ride into a park Xiao decides it is time for things to get a little more serious between them and effectively draws Jian toward her. This is a lovely sequence of attraction and response.

It is interrupted when Jian sees Guei ridding away with Jian's bicycle with is also Guei's bike.

The next day in school Jian is upset and refuses to be comforted although Xiao tries. Note Gao Yuanyuan's reflection on the far left side of the screen. Someone much more versed in the semiotics of representation and the deconstruction of narrative filmic text through signification should explain what the reflection means. As far as how it looks--it is striking.

This is only a few small pieces of Beijing Bicycle which is uneven but brilliant in parts and which I may revisit more analytically (with fewer pictures of actresses) later on.


  1. I remember not caring much for "Beijing Bicycle" -- and, in fact, being pretty disappointed by it when I viewed it years ago (when I was still living in Philadelphia, in fact). A far better film with a guy on a bike who runs into a young woman is "Electric Shadows". Have you seen that, ewaffle?

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  3. Thanks for reminding me that I have a copy laying around waiting to be viewed here! Hmm, I might have been gifted Electric Shadows, too, but not sure. ;D

    I'll take the opportunity here to plug Gu Changwei's Peacock, though not a central 'character', the bicycle has a significant presence. :D