Beijing Taxi

Three cab drivers of assorted ages and genders provide unique perspectives on the profound changes wrought by preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games in "Beijing Taxi."

With: Bai Jiwen, Wei Caixia, Zhou Li. (Mandarin dialogue)

Three cab drivers of assorted ages and genders provide unique perspectives on the profound changes wrought by preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games in “Beijing Taxi.” Tracking each cabbie from 2006 to the onset of the Games, Miao Wang’s imagistic docu intercuts among her three subjects in freeform fashion, in the process revealing contrasting facets of a culture in full capitalistic metamorphosis. “Taxi” bowed Dec. 10 at Gotham’s ReRun Gastropub Theater, but roiling global economies may make this engrossing docu appear already outdated.

Throughout, the drivers are framed against the various cityscapes they traverse, though their philosophical views on what is unfolding around them differs with age and temperament.

Six years away from retirement at age 54, Bai Jiwen represents a generation largely left behind in an increasingly unfamiliar society. He received little education during the Cultural Revolution; he suffers from health problems, and when his license is suspended for lack of fluency in English, his insurance also lapses. But surviving decades of radically shifting Chinese domestic policy has given him the flexibility to ride out the Olympic storm.

Wei Caixia, in her mid-30s, finds herself discontentedly straddling the fence between old values and new. Unable to tolerate the restraints of a 9-to-5 job, she has already tried other professions, including a short stint as a teacher; she opens a small clothing stall, only to discover that, impatient and outspoken, she cannot cater to customers. Her only true commitment is to her 6-year-old daughter, with whom she spends all her spare time, the camera chronicling their perambulations around the Great Wall.

Chubby, genial Zhou Li experiences none of his colleagues’ professional pressures. Still young (in his early 30s) and relatively skilled (he drives a variety of vehicles), he can easily get by and feels neither his elders’ confusion nor his peers’ impatient ambition, adhering to an easygoing Beijing tradition that prizes appreciation over appropriation.

Indeed, all three admit to reservations about the new China, questioning the elevation of competition over cooperation, and regretting the wholesale razing of old neighborhoods. Gifted lensers Ian Vollmer and Sean Price Williams prowl the bulldozed rubble and visit rare quiet enclaves of old Beijing.

Though inconvenienced by the Games and dubious about the wisdom of spending tremendous time, effort and resources on fabricating a spiffy image for the West, the cabbies are not immune to the lure of the Olympics. Their trips to the site allow Wang to latch on to a multilingual tour of a meticulously crafted city in miniature, gaze upon the Bird’s Nest stadium alongside Wei’s enraptured daughter or marvel with Zhou at the excellent Mandarin spoken by a visiting African-American fare.

Popular on Variety

Beijing Taxi

Production: A Three Waters production. Produced by Ivana Stolkiner, Miao Wang. Co-producer, Robert Chang. Directed, written by Miao Wang.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Ian Vollmer, Sean Price Williams; editor, Sikay Tang, Wang; music, Stephen Ulrich, Itamar Ziegler; sound, Vollmer, Williams, Wang; sound designer, Joe Boyd Vigil. Reviewed at ReRun Gastropub Theater, New York, Nov. 30, 2010. (In SXSW Film Festival.) Running time: 79 MIN.

With: With: Bai Jiwen, Wei Caixia, Zhou Li. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Studio Babelsberg

    Terminated 'Matrix 4,' 'Uncharted' Film Crews Demand Help From Studio Babelsberg

    Germany’s Studio Babelsberg is seeking to find a settlement with hundreds of film crew members following the shutdown earlier this month of Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix 4” and Sony Pictures’ “Uncharted” amid the coronavirus outbreak. The production stop has left many independent film crew members without pay and more than 300 have formed a working [...]

  • Empty movie theater

    Theater Owners Create $2.4 Million Fund for Cinema Workers

    The National Association of Theatre Owners and the Pioneers Assistance Fund have created an initial $2.4 million fund to provide financial assistance to movie theater employees who need help due to the coronavirus pandemic. The organizations said Monday that the first part of the initiative is a grant program that will provide a stipend to [...]

  • Bob Chapek Bob Iger Disney

    Bob Iger to Give Up Salary, Other Senior Disney Executives to Take Pay Cuts

    Disney has joined the list of companies implementing sizable pay cuts for senior executives amid the upheaval caused by the coronavirus crisis. Bob Iger, who shifted from chairman-CEO to executive chairman last month, has opted to forgo his salary for the year. Bob Chapek, who succeeded Iger as CEO, has taken a 50% pay cut. [...]

  • Sundance Horror Movie 'Relic' Picked Up

    Sundance Horror Movie 'Relic,' Starring Emily Mortimer, Picked Up By Film Constellation

    London-based production, finance and sales company Film Constellation has boarded the critically-lauded “Relic,” the debut feature from Natalie Erika James. The film, which stars Emily Mortimer (“Shutter Island”), Robyn Nevin (“The Matrix Trilogy”) and Bella Heathcote (“The Neon Demon”), had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in the Midnight section. The film, which [...]

  • Judy Movie 2019 renee zellweger

    Korea Box Office: ‘Judy’ Debuts on Top as Cinemas Slump to Historic Lows

    The South Korean box office, which has been widely affected by coronavirus and has fallen to historic lows, was further hit by leading exhibitor CJ-CGV’s recent decision to shut 35 complexes nationwide, and to reduce screenings at those theaters remaining in operation. Opening on Wednesday (Mar. 25), Oscar-winning drama “Judy” debuted on top of the [...]

  • 'Elephant' Review: Less Majestic Than the

    'Elephant,' Narrated by Meghan Markle: Film Review

    Of all the members of the animal kingdom we think of as akin to humans — chimps, dolphins, whales, perhaps (if we’re being honest about it) our dogs — elephants may be the most movingly and preternaturally aware. Because you can see how intelligent they are. You see it in a chimp’s face, too, of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content