Springtime in a Small Town | Chicago Reader

Springtime in a Small Town

Leading Chinese director Tian Zhuangzhuang is best known for his sublime historical epic Blue Kite (1993), whose depictions of the horrors of life under Mao got him banned from filmmaking for three years. His greatly anticipated return is a remake of the most revered Chinese film of all time: Fei Mu's 1948 Spring in a Small Town. Just after World War II a sickly landlord, Liyan, living in a half-ruined manor receives an unexpected visit from an old university friend, Zhiwen. Zhiwen was once the lover of Liyan's wife, Yuwen, and as passions rekindle, modern romance threatens to unravel traditional bonds of loyalty. The remake preserves the long, carefully designed takes, hauntingly dark atmosphere, and stealthily increasing tension of the original, but there are critical differences. Tian has abandoned the most innovative feature of Fei Mu's version—Yuwen's strikingly modernistic voice-over, a whispered stream of consciousness that complicates and poeticizes everything that happens—and replaced it with an almost classical film language, turning a radical commentary on China's breakdown into a nostalgic celebration of a lost perfect past. His goal is radical: to heal the rupture between China's traditional past and its postrevolutionary present. But the result, though splendidly graceful, is overly decorous and oddly lifeless. In Mandarin with subtitles. 112 min.

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