Spring in a Small Town 小城之春 (1948) – China [100 Best Chinese Motion Pictures 最佳華語片一百部]

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 3rd January 2013
Reviewed as part of 100 Best Chinese Motion Pictures – Hong Kong Film Awards 最佳華語片一百部

Ranked #1 in the list by Hong Kong Film Awards (2005)

Director: Fei Mu
Cast: Wei Wei, Li Wei, Shi Yi

From the outset, “Spring in a Small Town” provides a haunting imagery, with China suffering the after effects of the terrifying World War 2. Although there is nothing in director Fei Mu’s work to imply any political undertones, this film serves as one of Chinese history most important film and it is not hard to understand why. Considered by Hong Kong Film Awards as the best Chinese film ever, “Spring in a Small Town” comes with a lofty expectations and it is most certainly a film that is by far beyond its time and space. From the opening narration and constant monologue and long silence takes allowing the actors to do their business, one can easily tell how much impact this film has on contemporary great filmmakers in Wong Kar Wai (“In the Mood for Love”), Hou Hsiao Hsien, Ann Hui (in particularly in “The Way We Are”) and Tian Zhuangzhuang (the later even inspired a remake of the current film in 2005). “Spring in a Small Town” may not be the greatest film ever made, but it stays with you with hallowing effects and undoubtedly one of the most important films in Chinese cinema.

The film provides a haunting imagery, not because he storyline, but manner in which it is filmed. Director Fei Hu does not shy away from depicting the mundane and routine life of a lonely housewife who have fallen out of love for his long suffering husband with mental and heath issues. Wei Wei (韋偉) (who stills roam around the Hong Kong film industry at the age of 90 in films like “Happy Birthday”, “Fire of Conscience” and “The Drunkard”) plays the lead heroine and long suffering housewife who is torn between her conflicting emotions and lust for her former flame (played by Li Wei) and the lack of love for her husband (played by Shi Yu 石羽). What makes the film so honorable and inherently honest is the depiction of both male characters. The film does not have any villains and no matter how you look at it, all the characters remain with a certain cultured values instilled by their Chinese tradition.

In many ways, the film channels (and obviously inspired) Wong Kar Wai’s most accomplished work “In the Mood for Love”. Both films deals with the issue of possible adultery and uses non-physical contact (meaning the lack of sexual encounters in this perspective) to depict the longing issues of regrets, lust, jealously and dealing with integrity, the conflicts of going against traditional values, brotherhood code and more importantly the values and principle that are inherently Chinese. There are numerous scenes where Wei Wei simply stares at the broken walls of her home which juxtapose with her overlooking eyes over the also broken city walls. In doing so, Fei Hu is not only showing a broken relationship, but rather a broken China that is yet to recover from the shattering memories of the war.

All in all, “Spring in a Small Town” is a powerful film that is able to stand to test of time. Fei Mu is certainly a director that is beyond his time. From his film making techniques, methods of story telling, presentation of characters and the strong use of silence, Fei Mu in making this film, has leave behind a legacy and a lasting one as well. Probably not the greatest film in Chinese history, but most definitely one of the most important film to witness of the century. (Neo 2013, 100 Best Chinese Motion Pictures)

I rated it 9.5/10

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