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