Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers

Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers ★★★★

Wu Wenguang's Bumming in Beijing is an intriguing independent documentary about the lives of five drifting artists (two aspiring painters, a writer, a self-taught theatre director, and a photographer) who followed their dreams to the capital and scrape out a meager existence by working freelance. Living in shoddy rented rooms or sometimes on borrowed couches, they refuse to succumb to social pressures and accept mundane, but infinitely more secure, normal adult lives.

Shot between 1988 and 1990, the film offers glimpses of a Beijing that in some ways has ceased to exist as a result of China's burgeoning economy. The dilapidated hutongs where writer Zhang Ci is interviewed, for example, have long since been demolished in favor of modern apartment complexes. We also see streets still dominated by bicycles and buses rather than today's endless traffic jams. This is all secondary, however, to the film's most fascinating element: the artists themselves.

It is uplifting to note that three of the film's participants actually went on to do great things in their chosen professions. Mou Sen gained international acclaim as a forerunner in experimental theatre and is now one of China's most well-known theatre directors. Painter Zhang Dali became one of the only artists to ever appear on the cover of Time magazine. Photographer Gao Bo became an international success and has since exhibited his works all over the world. Sometimes it pays to hold on to your dreams.

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