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Summer Palace Review


Good
Banned in China equally for its depiction of Tiananmen Square in 1989 and for its inclusion of both male and female nudity for the first time in Mainland China's cinematic history, "Sixth Generation" Chinese helmer Lou Ye evinces the revolution of Chinese idealists against the ruling Communist party with a particularly wild-eyed and dangerous style in Summer Palace.

Four films into his career and already a healthy practitioner of ideas over structure, Ye sparks this absurdly ambitious epic with Yu Hong (Hao Lei), the 17-year-old loner daughter of a shopkeeper in Tumen (near the North Korean/Chinese border) who decides to let her boyfriend take her virginity before she moves on to the college boys at Beijing University. Yu's awkward nature only intensifies when she gets to the dormitories, packed in smoke-filled rooms with two or three other girls like oily sardines. The first girl she befriends, Li Ti (the bracingly-erratic Hu Ling), takes her out one night with her boyfriend who in turn introduces Yu to Zhou (Guo Xiaodong). All four dance together and it seems for the next 14 years they will be trying to figure out who is dancing with whom.

Continue reading: Summer Palace Review

Beijing Bicycle Review


Weak
In 1948, director Vittorio De Sica made The Bicycle Thief, the quintessential blueprint of neorealism, a drama widely considered one of the greatest films ever produced. It was shot in the streets of Italy with non-professional actors, and tells about the haves, the have-nots, and the desperate. For the uninitiated, the classic tale is motivated by the theft of a poor man's bicycle, an item which he must have in order to work. Fifty-three years later, Chinese writer-director Wang Xiaoshuai (So Close to Paradise) presents another story about class differences, shot in the streets of Beijing with non-professional actors, about a young man who needs to retrieve his stolen bike to keep his courier job. Homage? Theft? Gentle borrowing? What difference does it make when the result is delivered with too heavy a hand, and is just too slow to be involving?

Beijing Bicycle is introduced with a captivating style -- young men, mostly from poor farm families, appear on-camera individually and address the audience as they are interviewed for prestigious bike messenger positions. We hear an interviewer off-screen, but only witness these nervous, determined, sometimes blank faces, telling their stories in return for a chance at urban success. The narrative then follows one staffer, Guei (Cui Lin), as he zips through Beijing making deliveries to upscale office buildings, saving his earnings so that he can own his company bicycle.

Continue reading: Beijing Bicycle Review

Beijing Bicycle Review


Grim

Sometimes we film critics get so fed up with the dumbing down of American cinema that we forget that plots dependent on character stupidity are not a purely Hollywood phenomenon. But then along comes a movie like the promising but frustrating "Beijing Bicycle" to set us straight.

Showered with awards and accolades in Taiwan and at the Berlin Film Festival, the picture is an affecting social study in urban Chinese life, about two teenage boys in a tug-of-war over ownership of a shiny new mountain bike.

Guei (Cui Lin), an undemonstrative courier/messenger fresh from rural China, owns the bike -- or would, had it not been stolen with only one payment to go. His messenger company had supplied him with the bicycle on an installment plan. Jian (Li Bin), is a schoolboy whose cool-kid cache gets a boost after he buys the stolen bike at a flea market. Now he gets to ride with his better-off pals and has even landed a pretty girlfriend (Zhou Xun), thanks to his new status.

Continue reading: Beijing Bicycle Review

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