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Interesting but feels strangely European.
on May 13, 2007
I am writing this from the perspective of a Westerner who has no knowledge of the Chinese language and has been to China only once (although rather recently).
"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 . . .