Living in a city gripped by perpetual construction and shifting attitudes, Dezi drives a soon-to-be obsolete Santana taxi as a means to avoiding confrontation with his unsettled existence. He (Lei Yu) picks up several female rides along the way, including his own wife, who proceeds to divorce him, a low-paid waitress in one of the city's more bustling restaurants, a bookish scholar and a phased out party girl. All become Dezi's lovers, through their rapture painting a broad cross section of Beijing's late-90's tumultuous upheaval and reconstruction.
Most of the movie deals indirectly with the northern capital and its chameleon-esque nature, as it is shockingly transformed to meet new sets of expectations and long-term goals. Dezi's ceaseless, largely nocturnal journey through its streets displays hordes of imported rural construction crews, avenues torn wide open, monolithic high-rises and whole neighborhoods waiting in the wings to be populated, as well as the non-stop din of humanity at work. Director Ning Ying thus passes judgment in subtler ways, leaving it to viewers to decide whether the processes described bear the fruits of blessing or wrath.
I Love Beijing, therefore, probably denotes some moniker-related irony and sarcasm, for none of its protagonists overtly express such feelings for their place of residence, and in fact, generally feel out of character there, since most come from small-town and village backgrounds. The film tries to highlight the much-discussed mass migration of rural populations into China's largest metropolitan areas, but actually avoids verbalizing its thoughts and intentions, allowing moving pictures to do its bidding.
Which is why it works so well, carefully selecting footage of extreme relevance, eschewing tourist-trap fair and glamorized eye-candy. Dialogues feature just as much candor, coming across as real life conversations and situations rather than dramatic content. Even though it clocks in at under 100 minutes, ILB succeeds in portraying numerous convincing predicaments, like Dezi's unfortunate encounters with gangland ruffians who mistreat him with prejudice and cruelty. Later, he picks up a penniless father and his young boy, leading to an exposure of Dezi's own vindictive streak and heartless demeanor. While playing much like a docudrama, the film transcends its genre peers by drawing audiences into the main character's daily routine. Additional boons number a mesmerising soundtrack comprising both over-laid music and Dezi's own car stereo, and an anti-climax finale of poetic and female beauty.
Many efforts to cash in on Beijing's great changes in past decades failed due to hackneyed, formulaic conception and stereotypical abuse, choosing to deliver exactly what they believed international audiences wanted. I Love Beijing goes another way, bringing to the fore a true to life cameo of a city in the making, from dank saunas, through spontaneous cabbie hangouts, to the all-pervasive KTV parlor. A must see.
Rating: * * * *
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