Cyclo is a Vietnamese film by Tran Anh Hung that owes much of the inspiration of its plot to The Bicycle Thief; a young bicycle rickshaw driver has his cycle stolen by a group of gang thugs, who then coerce him into doing some of their dirty work in order to get the rickshaw back and pay back his debts. It’s an interesting premise, and one may expect the film to take it in any one of a number of directions, most of them rather Hollywood in their delivery. As should be obvious to anyone versed in the list, Cyclo instead opts for a more subtle approach; where any other film would milk the drama and the tension for all they’re worth, Cyclo remains passive in its method, remaining behind the fourth wall and merely content with watching the proceedings play out.
I was fortunate in that I was in the right mindset to properly watch this film. It’s very meditative, and contemplating; I wouldn’t say that it’s sombre, but the lack of an extensive sound design or musical score (or at the least a very minimalist one) means this does come across very pensive at times. The dialogue is sparse and deliberate; Hung prefers to say a lot in the moments when his characters aren’t saying anything. Where the film succeeds is the universe it creates and holds to; all at once, we get the feel of a world that is merciless and unrelenting, yet forgiving and emotional if one is open to more than one side of it. I don’t know if this is really what Ho Chi Minh City is like, or if the film instead wanted to create a caricature of the seedier aspects, but it was enrapturing to inhabit this world for a mere two hours.
Funny anecdote, the first thing I noticed about this film is that one of the stars is the Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, known for Wong Kar-wai’s films; I don’t know if he had to learn Vietnamese for this role, or if he played it by ear, but it was interesting to guess. He does an excellent job regardless, as does the rest of the film; it doesn’t knock your socks off, but there’s very little fault to be found here, which is always quite a plus. I’d find this hard to recommend to anyone with a distaste for subtitles, even with the film being as dialogue-thin as it is; it just doesn’t have the mainstream appeal, at least to me. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t give it a try; if subtitles are meaningless to you, this is certainly a unique experience to be had, and it’s one I am glad to have had. I’ve been trying to think of ways in which I think this film could’ve been better off, and to be honest, I can’t really think of anything. That’s the hallmark of a good film for me.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10