Born and raised in Beijing, I moved to the US in 1990 and returned to visit only three times in 15 years. The colors, textures, sounds, and characters of my childhood city always remained present in my memory, yet I felt the city was leaving me behind. As the Olympic fever ushered in a new era of unprecedented transformations in Beijing, I understood that the timing was ripe for me to return. I wanted to capture the juxtapositions between the old and the new Beijing that exist side by side today, and, most importantly, to experience how the lives and mentalities of people on the ground have been affected. I have had countless raving conversations about the unique characters of Beijing taxi drivers, with their notoriously gregarious and quintessentially Beijinger personalities. In 2005, while I was filming YELLOW OX MOUNTAIN, Zhang Hongtu and I had an extensive chat about Beijing cabbies. It was then the idea of using taxi drivers as the conduit to the city solidified. All taxi drivers in Beijing are locals, whether they’re city residents or farmers from nearby suburbs. The taxi itself is not the focus of this film, but it is a cinematic device and the thread that unravels the story of the common citizen’s struggles in this morphing city.
From a stylistic point of view, I want to focus on capturing the visceral through rich imagery and sound, through the textures, light and mood. I want to render the feeling of the city as it had floated through my dreams and memory. In the cab the shots are often composed to be very tight to generate a real sense of the intimacy of the space. The viewer is simultaneously peeping into a fragment of the taxi driver’s character defined by the edges of the rear view mirror, and zooming out to the more disconnected world outside framed by the window of the car. The private vs. public space, the modern vs. the traditional and the internal vs. the external worlds are some of the dualities I want to juxtapose.
China has emerged into the forefront of Western consciousness through its unprecedented speed of economic growth in a climate of global interdependence. While China is ubiquitous in current world affairs, there is very little understanding in the West about the culture and society of China today. BEIJING TAXI hopes to bring to light the human faces of Beijing. Through a rich portrait of Beijing and the connections the audience will make with the characters in the film, the viewer will cultivate a deeper understanding of the current socio-economic situations in China today. I started this project with a mission to illuminate the humor, heart, and the humanity of a slice of this massive culture and people. It is very important to me to present a humanist look into the Chinese society, in an era when China has been portrayed mainly in a dehumanized way in Western media.
It is a film very much portrayed from my point of view as an emigrant Beijinger: the old China is like an intimate childhood dream, while the China of a new era is ushered in by a historical event. I wanted to transcend the nostalgia and a child’s remembrance of things past for the Beijing of my childhood and rise to an understanding of the Beijing of the Olympic era. It is in the end a film that takes you on a journey to experience the complex contradictions China faces today, through a down-to-earth understanding of the common citizen’s persistent attempts to grasp the elusive. The world is changing faster than they can keep up with, but they will keep on going, and forge ahead.
— Miao Wang