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With: Hu Jing Fan, Wu Jun, Bai Qing, Lu Sisi
Written by: Ah Cheng, from a story by Li Tianji
Directed by: Tian Zhuangzhuang
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 09/04/2002

Springtime in a Small Town (2002)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Hope 'Springs' Eternal

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After getting himself in a world of trouble with his controversial The Blue Kite (1994), the great Chinese filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang finally returns to the big screen. This time he has taken a safer route, remaking a classic 1948 Chinese drama with ultimate grace. The plot centers on a man and his wife living in a rural villa, just after World War II. Their marriage has no spark. The man, Liyan (Wu Jun), is ill and his wife Yuwen (Hu Jing Fan) mostly broods. Suddenly, a big city doctor arrives. Zhang Zhichen (Bai Qing) is an old friend of Liyan's, but surprisingly, he's also the childhood sweetheart of Yuwen. This opens up a subtle but awkward triangle that escalates when Liyan decides to fix Zhang up with his 16 year-old sister Dai Xiu (Lu Sisi). Tian guides his story with great smoothness, providing a hint of unease with his constantly gliding camera and his penchant for viewing the action from behind grated windows and other obstacles. It's almost as if he's licking his wounds, hiding in the foreground like a paranoid animal. But the effect supercharges the old material, and we get a stunning, moving tale of love just out of reach.

DVD Details: Springtime in a Small Town only received a sporadic U.S. theatrical distribution, and so Palm Pictures' beautiful new DVD is most welcome. It comes with an hour-long making-of featurette and a radio interview with director Tian (translated). It also features one of those ridiculous theatrical trailers in which not a stitch of dialogue is heard, as if the distributor were trying in vain to disguise the fact that the film has subtitles.

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