Spring in a Small Town
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There are only five characters in the story. Liyan is the "Young Master" of the household. He is sick with tuberculosis, and perpetually irritable. Yuwen is his wife, the narrator of the story. She is strong, beautiful, and passionate. However, she feels trapped in her existence. As she says at one point, "I do not have the courage to die, and Liyan does not have the courage to live." The other members of the household are the one remaining servant, Lao Huang, and Liyan's sister, who is usually referred to as Meimei. (This is really a title, "Younger Sister," and not a name.) A fifth character soon arrives, throwing the house out of its entropy: Zhichen. He is the best friend of Liyan from childhood, but he does not realize until he arrives that Liyan's wife is Yuwen, with whom he was in love before the war.Read more ›
"Spring in a Small Town" is, for the most part, subtly acted, written, and directed and is not afraid to use symbolism when appropriate. Because it uses a limited number of interior sets for most of the story, it gave me the feeling I was watching a stage play that had been expanded for the screen. Although I found the story to be engaging, I sometimes felt as though I was watching an Ingmar Bergman film (which is not bad). Indeed, the production owes much more to the influences of European filmmakers than to Hollywood, and there is a sort of Scandivavian languor in the way the story is told and developed.
On the negative side, the print is mediocre and the soundtrack, which seems to disappear in a few places, often contains a hum. The English subtitles, which frequently race by so quickly that they can be only partially read, are often, obviously, incorrectly translated. (One of many examples of this is when Zhou Yuwen tells her husband to, "Go back to bed", when he is already in bed. I suspect the correct translation should have been, "Go back to sleep.") There is no music on the soundtrack until the last minute or two when it suddenly comes out of the blue with a somewhat disconcerting effect.
With this said, this is probably the best print that is available for this movie, and if you have any interest in the history of Asian/Chinese film or culture, this is certainly a film to see. Too bad such films do not have access to the financial resources to be properly restored. (Where is the George Eastman House when you need them?)
As for it being "The Greatest Chinese Film Ever Made"? I couldn't tell you since I haven't seen that many Chinese films. But, to be honest, I hope it isn't . . .
The film is only 90 minutes long and is not in the best condition. There is an essay on the DVD as an extra but nothing else.
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