You know the place: a Neorealist set populated by the young and the restless and the dazed of all ages, all living with the omnipresent but hard-to-grasp specter of kitschy/deadly communism yet steamrolling into the ruthless capitalist future. Yes, “China” has become a subgenre of contemporary documentary, as Beijing Taxi helps to confirm. Shot on HD as the 2008 Olympics approached, Miao Wang’s portrait of Beijing is partly a look at three average cab drivers—a mom who likes the job’s independence, a sickly Cultural Revolution vet, a jolly complacent fellow—and partly glossy travelogue, with skittering footage of city folk, buildings, and the odd ceremony that tilts perilously toward lux B-roll. There’s something transformative goin’ on in the streets, no doubt, and Soviet kinetic-kino pioneer Dziga Vertov might have liked the film’s ethos of a nation on the move. But, especially with Chinese pop smoothing the way, Wang’s letter from Beijing feels too breezy and light on fresh insight. The highlight is the crop-cut woman of the group, Wei Caixia, resoundingly vivid in her mix of ambivalence and confidence and worth her own film. Why not this one?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 8, 2010