Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 10 December 2010

FilmWatch: Beijing Taxi

I’m not sure of the quality of this documentary, but my guess it is a wonderful voyage inside and about one of my favorite cities in the world.

Beijing Taxi

Beijing Taxi

Scene from Beijing Taxi, shot from inside one

no Metacritic rating, yet

Beijing Taxi is a feature-length documentary that vividly portrays the ancient capital of China undergoing a profound transformation. The intimate lives of three taxi drivers are seen through a humanistic lens as they navigate a quickly morphing city, confronting modern issues and changing values. The three protagonists radiate a warm sense of humanity despite the struggles that each faces in adapting to new realities of life in the modern city. With stunning imagery of Beijing and a contemporary score rich in atmosphere, Beijing Taxi communicates a visceral sense of the common citizens’ persistent attempts to grasp the elusive. The 2008 Summer Olympic Games serve as the backdrop for Beijing Taxi‘s story, a coming out party for a rising nation and a metaphor for Chinese society and its struggles to reconcile enormous contradictions while adjusting to a new capitalist system that can seem foreign to some in the Communist-ruled and educated society. Candid and perceptive in its filming approach and highly cinematic and moody in style, Beijing Taxi takes us on a lyrical journey through fragments of a society riding the bumpy roads to modernization. Though its destination unknown, the drivers continue to forge ahead.

Not rated.

“The taxi driver is the globetrotter’s intelligence agent, always willing to provide a pithy sound bite or prescient analysis of what’s really wrong with the city he or she drives around in for a living. Miao Wang’s first feature-length documentary addresses the changes Beijing underwent in preparation for the 2008 Olympics through the viewpoint of three taxi drivers. The characters in the film are reality-television compelling, and Wang, who immigrated to the United States from China in 1990 and has lived here since, matches an outsiders fascination about everything with an emigrant’s appreciation for what Beijing is leaving behind in their embrace of modernity.” (Baltimore City Paper)

Beijing Taxi dips us under the mainstream media’s radar screen and places us in the seat of a journey through the capital of China: a lyrical, funny and at times bitter journey through the working lives of three Chinese who once were called the proletariat but today are not quite sure what they should be called. In varying degrees, according to generation, they struggle to become comfortable in the new Chinese society where competition is good and getting rich is patriotic.” (The Huffington Post, Stewart Nusbaumer)

“Among [the three taxi drivers featured is] Bai Jiwen, a weathered veteran of both Mao and the birth of Chinese capitalism who is due to retire in six years. With a plainspoken honesty that would have been impossible (and punishable) during the Cultural Revolution, he explains that while Western-style capitalism has benefited many in China’s premier city, it has also opened the doors for the sort of extreme poverty that was unthinkable under the late chairman.” (The Austin Chronicle, Marc Savlov)

“[Director Miao] Wang has a gift for defamiliarization, transforming the everyday into something beguiling: the play of water and soap across a windshield at a carwash, the bright whirl of pinwheels, a child’s lacquered fingernails, the clatter of pop music and traffic in a city at a night. There is an element of travelogue to how the film seeks to capture Beijing itself, lingering over its contradictory elements. We’re dazzled by the bright reds of a pile of buttons emblazoned with the profile of Mao Zedong in one moment and by a bright red Coca Cola advertisement in another; we see ancient architecture and gleaming images of American movie stars presiding over the same metropolis. . . . [She] offers us a valuable document of an important time in China’s history, and she allows us to see her native country – too often stereotyped or ignored in the American media – through the eyes of a compassionate, meticulous artist.” (Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Victoria Large)

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