On the Beat

“That's what being a cop is about—trivial things,” an officer explains to a new recruit as they cruise on their bicycles through low-rise alleys and crumbling courtyards, new towers shining remotely in the distance. It is 1994, the Year of the Dog, and Beijing's finest have a new assignment: to enforce the ban on raising dogs, the latest status symbol in a city of rising wealth. American cop shows compete with repetitive readings of Party circulars for the officers' attention, and the creaky workings of the bureaucratic apparatus occasion absurdist humor, but there are also flashes of grimmer realities as comedy unpredictably escalates toward conflict. With compositions of low-key beauty and protagonists wonderfully played by actual policemen, the centerpiece of the Beijing Trilogy is a deadpan, subtle study of everyday frustrations in a social framework where the trivial is crucial.
—Juliet Clark

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