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The city was once named Saigon; it is now called Ho Chi Minh City, and in this powerful second feature by Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya) it looks like a lost circle of hell.
Cyclo is a survey of a society in decay, in which conventional plotting gives way to a series of enigmatic episodes and haunting observations. There are two main characters: Cyclo (Le Van Loc) is a poor urban teenager who scratches out a living operating a bicycle taxi in the murderous city traffic; the Poet (Hong Kong star Tony Leung) is the son of an upper-class family who has depressively drifted into pimping and fencing--wartime rackets still thriving in the new Vietnam.
Images of appalling violence are played against backgrounds of banal, everyday bustle--a buzzing flow of meaningless, insectlike activity. Hung's vision may be dispiritingly bleak, but his filmmaking is vivid and inventive. Each shot is distinguished by a particular quality of lighting, framing, or texture that lifts it out of the ordinary and into the realm of the strange, ravishing, and insinuating. --Dave Kehr
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