Beijing Bicycle

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Beijing Bicycle Movie Poster Image
Great tale of two boys' struggle over a bicycle.
  • PG-13
  • 2002
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters fight bitterly rather than cooperate.

Violence

Bloody fights, child abuse

Sex

Two characters watch a girl changing (offscreen). Bare bottoms

Language

Some name calling and insults

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character tries a cigarette for the first time. Other characters smoke.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie has numerous bloody fights that may scare younger kids. Characters smoke and pressure a character into trying a cigarette. The story's main theme is perseverance over adversity.

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What's the story?

Guei (Cui Lin), a poor country boy on the outskirts of present-day Beijing, works hard to earn enough to own the bicycle he rides for his delivery job. Just as he is just about to reach his goal, his bike is stolen. Guei searches tirelessly for it throughout the entire city. On the other side of town, Jian (Li Bin), a teenager about the same age as Guei, has a new bicycle which helps him win the affections of Xiao (Gao Yuanyuan). Meanwhile, Guei finally stumbles upon his missing two-wheeler and tries to retrieve it from a bike rack but a guard stops him. Guei somehow traces the bike to Jian, and seizes it. Jian gives chase, and what ensues are a series of incidents in which Guei and Jian steal the bike back and forth from each other, with Guei subjected to continuous brutal beatings by Jian and his gang. Eventually, after endless struggles, the boys agree to share, but further complications arise.

Is it any good?

The two main actors in this movie did a very convincing job; the problem is that the symbolism probably does not translate across cultures. American viewers, who are used to automobiles as the principal mode of transportation, are unlikely to feel the way that Jian or Guei feel for the bike. Viewers will feel empathy for Guei, because actor Cui plays him as hard-working and as a fundamentally good person. Li Bin was very believable as the immature, self-centered, and dishonest Jian.

To American audiences, Beijing Bicycle may seem like a lot of pointless fights and hand-wringing over a common and easily-replaceable object. To understand the deeper meaning of the bicycle, viewers need to understand that in China, ownership of a bicycle is (or at least was) a sign of prosperity and resourcefulness and is a key mode of transportation. For the film's characters, the bicycle was equivalent to a first love. It filled their desires and needs, and it made them feel more mature and in control.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Guei and Jian cannot live without the bicycle, and why their obsessions put them in danger and caused them to do things they normally would not do. Why is it that Guei's boss call him "the little engine that could"? Why does Jian believe the bicycle is rightfully his? Why does Guei believe the bicycle is rightfully his? Why does Jian give up the bicycle in the end? In American culture, what would be the equivalent of the bicycle to Guei and Jian? What similarities and differences are there in the way people live in Beijing and the way people in large cities live in the United States? Do Jian and Guei have anything in common other than their obsession with the bicycle?

Movie details

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