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Pick Pocket (1997)
"Xiao Wu" (original title)

 |  Drama  |  1997 (China)
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 1,102 users  
Reviews: 10 user | 17 critic

Little pocket thief Wu never got away from the streets like his friends did. He realises that he is alone, as his old buddy doesn't invite him for his wedding. When he falls in love with a ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Hongwei Wang ...
Xiao Wu
Hao Hongjian ...
Mei Mei
Baitao Zuo
Ma Jinrei
Liu Junying
Yonghao Liang
An Qunyan
Dongdong Jiang
Long Zhao
Wang Reiren
Jinfeng Gao
Li Renzhu
Wu Juan
Ji Jinshu
Zhaorui Ren


Little pocket thief Wu never got away from the streets like his friends did. He realises that he is alone, as his old buddy doesn't invite him for his wedding. When he falls in love with a hooker he is forced to think about his future. Can he break with his criminal past? Written by ZOO-9 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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Release Date:

1997 (China)  »

Also Known As:

The Pickpocket  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The director cast his friends as actors and shot everything on location in his hometown. See more »


Referenced in Unknown Pleasures (2002) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

A film that explores the back streets of Beijing from the bottom rung of criminality
12 May 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Xiao Wu is a pickpocket in Beijing. Stuck on the bottom rung of the criminal ladder despite his advance into adult years, he heads a small group of thieving street urchins who haunt the back streets of the city. Xiao Wu is a surly character, prone to throwing away his cigarette ends when in other people's homes. His time is whiled away with games of Mahjong and American pool played out in the street and he has few close friends.

Xiao Wu's brother, Xiao Yong, once himself a petty thief, is now a cigarette trader and brothel-owner. Xiao Yong, shamed by his criminal roots and his brother's failure to move on from the same position, excludes Xiao Wu from his wedding invitations and refuses to accept his wedding gift of ill-gotten money. Later on, Xiao Wu also discovers the shame that his hardworking parents feel for their pickpocket son.

A sense develops that the world is moving on and that Xiao Wu is being left behind; this is increased by the ongoing police-led evictions from the street where he spends much of his time – a new building project is on its way. Xiao Wu finds a glimmer of hope in his encounters with Mei Mei, an employee at the local brothel. The taciturn pickpocket opens up a little in her presence and the two of them bond, somewhat oddly from a Western perspective, through karaoke singing. Xiao Wu suddenly finds his singing voice when alone in a bathhouse; his plain voice resounds poignantly in the large, grimy, empty room. It is a rare moment of beauty.

When Xiao Wu buys a pager (state of the art in 1997) to keep in touch with Mei Mei it seems that he is starting to open up just a little to the changing world. But Mei Mei's sudden disappearance, along with his alienation from his family, leaves Xiao Wu without direction. A grim lack of purpose takes hold again. In the final frames of the film he is publicly humiliated, bringing the story to a sad end.

The footage in this film is much grainier than many people made be used to, but this is not necessarily a weakness: the image quality suits the grey, dilapidated city streets. The hand-held camera adds intimacy to the karaoke scenes and captures the distance between the two brothers as they walk separately through the same streets. The muffled state of the soundtrack takes some getting used to, but writer-director Zhang Ke Jia was clearly working on a limited budget for his first feature. The non-professional cast, however, is surprisingly effective; Hong Wei Wang is a real find, exuding a seedy charm in the lead role.

The Artificial Eye DVD which I watched this film on did not provide subtitles for many of the voices on radio and television, nor for some of the secondary characters, but there is an enormous amount of visual detail to take in as well. China simply does not feature enough on cinema screens, but this fine film suggests hope for the future.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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