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Beijing: young men in packs, machismo, class divisions, violence, and indifference. Guei arrives from the country: toothbrushes, hotel foyers, and Qin, a rich neighbor in high heels, dazzle him. He gets a job as a messenger. The company issues him a bike, which he must pay for out of his wages. When it is stolen, Guei hunts for it. A student, Jian, has it; for him, it's the key to teen society - with his pals and with Xiao, a girl he fancies. Guei finds the bike and stubbornly tries to reclaim it in the face of great odds. But for Jian to lose the bike would mean humiliation. The two young men - and the people around them - are swept up in the youths' desperation. Written by
Too long? Don't be absurd: there's not a single moment that could profitably have been cut. The details of Beijing life we see may or may not "develop character" or "advance the story", but they're worth watching all by themselves, and Wang only includes those details which he correctly senses are not out of place. This is a film as sturdily and artfully made as the bicycle of the title, and it's simply a pleasure - a rare pleasure, unfortunately - to see dialogue, images, music and incidental sound fitting together so nicely. The long stretches with no dialogue at all are as communicative as they need to be and anything but contrived. I probably wouldn't even have noticed them if it hadn't been for the fact that I didn't speak Mandarin and was thus relieved not to have to read subtitles.
It's amazing how much Wang manages to convey in what is, after all, a very short time (just 113 minutes). I even got a sense of why so many people were willing to align themselves with Qin (the one who either stole the bicycle from Guo or bought it from the real thief with stolen money - we're never entirely certain), even though he comes across as perhaps the least worthwhile person in the world. When his friends offer to help him retrieve the bicycle - and later on, as they try to retrieve it - they have the air of people who know they're in the wrong, who are trying to justify their mistaken decision to waste energy on the wrong person by wasting still more energy. We get a similar sense from Qin's suitor, Xiao, and even from Qin's family. We get a strong sense of the society in which all of these people live and of how the world must appeal to them.
And even though there may be no "closure" at the end - although I don't know what "closure" is and I suspect that people who use the word probably don't either - few films are quite as satisfying.
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