Intellectual Property

Taxi vs Taxi


Clip from The Last Breadbox, click to watch on Youtube

In 2008, Danwei published a clip from a documentary called The Last Breadbox by Sam Voutas showing city-wide spontaneous celebrations on the streets of Beijing after the city won the hosting rights for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Shot in summer 2001, the film follows three taxi drivers in Beijing as the city gears up for the Olympic bid. The three drivers are: a retrenched man in his 50s who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, a mother of an 8 year old daughter who dreams of opening a restaurant, and a carefree man in his 30s obsessed with tropical fish.

There are scenes of street celebrations and flag waving when Beijing wins the bid. Beijing rock band Shazi's (沙子) song "Our Current Healthy Little Aspirations" features prominently on the soundtrack. The film was released in 2002.

Fast forward to last weekend. A film called Beijing Taxi by Miao Wang premiered at the SXSW festival in Austin Texas yesterday.

It's a documentary that follows three taxi drivers in Beijing as the city gears up for the Olympics. One driver is in his mid 50s and came of age during the Cultural Revolution. The second, a mother of a young daughter, dreams of opening a clothing store. The
third driver is an optimistic man in his late thirties who goes fishing.

There are scenes of street celebrations and flag waving on the night of the opening ceremony. Beijing rock band Shazi's song "Our Current Healthy Little Aspirations" features prominently on the soundtrack.

Co-incidence?

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There are currently 5 Comments for Taxi vs Taxi.

Comments on Taxi vs Taxi

@miaowang claims on twitter this was a "coincidence". maybe the gneral topic was, but specific characters, scenes and music. give me a break

I met Miao Wang in Nov 06 for the screening of her short film Yellow Ox Mountain at Cherry Lane. At that time, she was already well into her film process and following two of her three final characters. In April 2007 we screened The Last Breadbox and I suggested she get in touch with director Sam Voutas and producer Melanie Ansley and see if they might eventually be able to screen the two films as a double feature or something.

No documentary filmmaker wants to make a similar film to what exists, and while there may be striking similarities between the films (I haven't yet watched Beijing Taxi), Miao has no doubt chosen her characters on the basis of their interest as people. Cultural Revolution era drivers are not exactly rare in Beijing. And films on taxis either, as I have heard of at least 3 other films besides these two. Does anyone know what's up with the feature made from 3 fictional short films about taxis?

No doubt Miao made an unfortunate choice of song and probably should have listened more carefully to the soundtrack of The Last Breadbox to avoid overlap.

In any case, I'm looking forward to the Beijing Taxi Film Festival, or at least a good street fight between taxi film directors.

rock on

Patrick Pearce
Former Programmer, Cherry Lane Movies


@beijingtaxifilm @miaowang on twitter, how could you do such a thing to good people's hard work?

While I haven't seen Beijing Taxi (but plan to this Friday, as I live in the Austin area these days), I have seen The Last Breadbox and the trailers for both films. Coincidence is possible, but there are parallels between the two trailers that shouldn’t be ignored if this is to be a truly open and critical discussion about whether or not plagiarism has occurred. To be fair, I should say that I know the filmmakers of The Last Breakbox and feel bad for them given the nature of some of these coincidences. Consider that as Shazi's song "Our Current Healthy Little Aspirations" begins in both trailers, the exact same panning shot of cabs in a queue is used. In Miao Wang's trailer, this occurs at minute 0:32; in the Last Breadbox trailer, it's occurs at minute 2:07. The likelihood that two different directors with different training and backgrounds would choose the exact same camera shot, theme song, and application in the editing process is highly improbable, as well as suspect. This also, I think, cannot honestly be called a coincidence if Miao Wang herself has seen the film The Last Breadbox. Also, not to toot my horn and be needlessly intellectual, but I’m a fiction writer in an MFA program in the United States and have studied the intersection of form and content in fiction. In many ways, form and content are indivisible things and that there are similarities here makes these coincidences in the trailer look like a form of lazy creative theft (as in the accepted version being taking an idea, reinventing it, and, by product, making it ones own and unique). And as a former resident of Beijing who lived there for 13 years, this situation seems typically Zhongguo in my mind: ideas appear to have been copied wholesale, and as the speaker in the opening of Miao Wang’s trailer ironically notes about Beijingers not liking competition, piracy in China is a form a bypassing competition and fast-tracking forward without putting in real effort and thought. As unfortunate as it is to say that, I don’t think that cultural context can be ignored. Again, if the heart of the matter is the truth here, people will be critical of the situation and also open to very real possibility that plagiarism has occurred.

Trailers or abbreviated clips about the same subject are often similar. Any full comparison made ought to be made between the films themselves. I can confirm that in "The Last Breadbox" the song "Our Current Healthy Little Aspirations" plays over a montage of drivers queuing and at work, including the dolly-style shot mentioned. I'd be happy to make my film available to anyone interested. - Sam Voutas

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