music friday: patti smith and bob mould
revisiting the 9s/geezer cinema: oldboy (park chan-wook, 2003)

spring in a small town (mu fei, 1948)

In 1945, Brief Encounter was released. Directed by David Lean, from a play by Noel Coward, it told the story of an affair between two married people, an affair that is never consummated. It's been a long time since I've seen it, and I don't remember thinking much of it, but it's considered a classic of English cinema, and the feel of suppressed emotion is overwhelming. People, including me, have often noted the similarities between this basic story and that of Wong Kar-wai's 2000 film from Hong Kong, In the Mood for Love, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies. There would seem to be something that grabs audiences in these stories of love that can't be fulfilled.

Spring in a Small Town is a 1948 Chinese film about an unhappy marriage and the introduction of a third person who is an old friend of the husband and, unbeknownst to the husband, an old lover of the wife. Much of the movie is taken up with the same kind of will they/won't they plot from the aforementioned films. Perhaps the biggest difference is the setting. The small town of the title is ravaged from the Sino-Japanese war that had ended only a few years earlier. The Chinese Civil War was nearing its end, with the Communist Party eventually triumphant. The Civil War isn't part of the story of Spring in a Small Town in the way the destruction of the Sino-Japanese war is a constant reminder. One result of this apparently is that once the Communists were in power, they found Mu Fei's film to be insufficiently political. It was buried for decades.

In more recent times, the film has had a renaissance, and is considered a classic of Chinese cinema (it's #184 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time". In 2005, the Hong Kong Film Awards called Spring in a Small Town the greatest Chinese film of all time.

I found the film atmospheric and touching, with subtle acting and interesting artistic touches under a small budget. I wouldn't call it the greatest Chinese film of all time, although I haven't exactly seen them all. But I'd put it about in the middle between the greatness of In the Mood for Love and the disappointment I got from Brief Encounters.


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