Cyclo (1995) (Not Rated)
"Cyclo" is a quintessential 90s movie, and I mean that in the best possible way. It it reminiscent of "Amores Perros" and "Nashville" and even "Mean Streets"; but it is its own movie. It's a tapestry movie, one that attempts to look at many lives of many people throughout the running time of the movie without really condoning or disregarding any of their actions.
The movie is et in Vietnam where a young man who owns a cyclo (Le Van Loc) is just going day to day, trying to raise money. Both of his parents are dead and he now lives with his two sisters and his grandfather, all of them work all day long to help with money; but this isn't easy living. His grandfather pumps tires, his older sister carries water, and his younger sister shines shoes—this isn't illustrious or clean. The first half of "Cyclo" is the more powerful because it crackles with life. Director Tran Anh Hung finds a way to make all the elements of a family and neighborhood fit together into a chaotic, yet very genuine snapshot of life.
The plot gets moving when one day, our protagonist has his bike stolen from him from a gang and he returns to the boss lady—who lends him the cyclo—for guidance after he gets the crap beaten out of him. Then he gets taken into the underworld as we shall call it, the crime sector of Vietnam. A mysterious man (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) is given the responsibility of taking care of and keeping an eye on the young boy and he does so very silently. This man is a poet and we often hear his poetry in a voice-over narration. It's imagery heavy and often beautiful, rarely coherent.
To detail what happens next would be kind of unfair because not much happens in the movie. The characters are pushed farther and father until it seems like madness spreads like fire through the film, until it eventually simmers down and the film returns full circle. Yet Tran Ahn Hung makes sure that his emotions are never screechy nor are his actors given something to do that it is impossibly cliche. It's a very well-measure movie, even if it is hard to understand what it's trying to accomplish.
The cyclo driver's sister (Tran Nu Yên-Khê) gets involved with the poet and she becomes a prostitute of types, letting old man give her fetishes to perform. The movie jumps from the sublime to gritty and back so quickly that it often doesn't work narratively...in fact, a lot of this movie doesn't.
Sure, there's a cultural difference; but "Cyclo" doesn't need a whole lot of explaining unless you are really trying to grasp every facet the movie has to offer. Instead, the viewing experience, is similar to grasping at smoke. It's almost like Terrence Malick, but maybe a little grittier than he ever was.
The anonymity of the movie, none of the characters being named, gives the film a little "everyday" feeling that I'm sure was intended.
As the movie progresses, we begin to see changes in the characters and the narrative importance is passed on like a baton from one character to the other. If you expect closure of any kind, don't bother, this is a true artsy movie and it reeks of that "foreign feel" that average audiences complain about.
All that being said, it's a beautiful, complicated movie; but one that doesn't demand and command your attention. The plot meanders, the dialogue goes silent, the music uplifts...it's an experience, but nothing you can't get from an assortment of other movies.
It's bizarre and well done.
Posted by Micah Jones