1996, NR, 120 min. Directed by Tran Anh Hung. Starring Le Van Loc, Tran Nu Yen Khe, Le Van Loc, Ngyuen Nhu Quynh, Tony Leung-Chiu Wai.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 13, 1996
Bizarre, arresting, and wholly original, Cyclo is like nothing you've ever seen before, except perhaps in uneasy slumbers. Set in modern-day Ho Chi Minh City, writer-director Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya) plunges the audience head first into the seamy, restless underbelly of Vietnam's most famous city. Our guide is 18-year-old Cyclo (Loc), one of the thousands of young men who make their meager living shuttling nameless passengers throughout the city via “cyclos,” large, three-wheeled bicycles with seats attached to their fronts. Cyclo's father -- also a cyclo driver -- was killed in a recent traffic accident and memories of his father's admonitions to “try to find a better life” weigh heavily upon the young man's soul. Cyclo lives in a tiny tenement with his older sister (Khe), who makes water deliveries to the nearby market; his younger sister, who shines shoes in the market; and his aged grandfather, who repairs cyclo tires. At times, it seems an idyllic existence amidst the surreal trappings of the city, but when his cyclo is stolen by a rival gang, the young man must quickly find a way to pay back his cruelly strict and possibly insane employer, Quynh. In an effort to find the men who stole his means of livelihood, Cyclo is caught in a downward spiral that relentlessly sucks him into the corrupt heart of the city, tearing apart his family and all he knows. Hung is a master of the visual, filling every frame with a riot of color, texture, and sound. His lengthy shots of water running down smooth skin as someone bathes are positively surreal at times, while his nightmarishly gorgeous images of Ho Chi Minh City are like something out of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. Loc, as Cyclo, turns in a brilliant, sedate performance; his expression is forever neutral, but the chaos before him is clearly reflected in his quiet eyes. Hong Kong action star Tony Leung is also on hand as the lover of Cyclo's older sister; once again, Leung proves he's one of the Crown Colony's finest actors. Cyclo is a rich, gritty, and ultimately distressing feast for the eyes. It's a dark and dirty dream that stays with you long after you leave the theatre.