Quick recap: A young man is robbed of his cyclo, a bike he uses to transport people around Ho Chi Minh City. Unable to pay his debt, he is forced to work for a criminal organization. His older sister is also brought into the gang to be a sex worker.
Fun (?) fact: Cyclo was both made in and banned in Vietnam.
Thoughts and observations:
I don’t know a lot about gangsters or criminal organizations but I do enjoy most movies about the subject and of course, The Sopranos. This gang in Vietnam is NONE of that. Maybe a few people at the very top have money but almost everyone else involved is just trying to survive, which really takes the fun out of everything. The loads of animal violence also made Cyclo just a downer of a film all around.
The concept of a young man working for the mob to pay off a debt isn’t a new one by any means but I was surprised by how much of the plot takes a back seat to the unrelenting poverty everywhere.None of the characters are given proper names, which I think is a really smart way of conveying that their story is just one of many in the city. It’s not that I didn’t care about the brother and sister and wanted them to escape the mob, but that we the audience knows this is just one story of many. This is not the kind of film that makes you want to jet off to Vietnam. At the same time, though, I didn’t feel like the director was making a moral judgement about the people. He’s not saying this is a country that needs aid and it’s also not inspiration porn about people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It’s just reality and that’s hard to swallow for me. There are some really beautiful and strange scenes throughout Cyclo and the mixing of poetry added to the dreamlike state I felt I was in at times. It really is a gorgeous film that I think accurately described what was going on in Vietnam in the 90s. But it’s also incredibly dark and the animal violence was almost too much at times.
Watchability score: 3/5
Up next: the Naked Spur