Spring in a Small Town (1948)

Mu Fei's "Spring in a Small Town" is no incredible feat of storytelling. It doesn't create an idea that drastically original (though to be fair, what movies do?) and it also doesn't tell a familiar tale in a bold and new way. The film instead relies on its moodiness and its hidden emotions to try to evoke something in the viewer and here's what I find ironic—more so than anything else, "Spring in a Small Town" is about dissatisfaction.
The small town referred to in the title is indeed very small...for only five characters appear on screen, the rest disappear in crumbling buildings and the war of years prior. After fighting swept through the land, there is only a small village left. Only a man, his wife, his sister, and their servant live there.
The wife, Zhou Yuwen (Wei Wei) is our main character. She likes to take long walks by the destroyed city wall and let her mind wander. She sometimes thinks about floating away, but her responsibilities tie her down. Her husband is a sick man and has been this way for six years. His infirmities have sucked all the joy out of the couple's marriage...everything is routine. Their's is a lifeless and somewhat hopeless union.
The sister, Meimei (Hongmei Zhang), is the opposite of both her brother and her sister-in-law. She's a tenacious and distracted bundle of energy and happiness. Nothing can keep her down, though her brother seems to try his best.
The brother and husband, man of the house, spends most of his days laying around. The few times that he does see his wife, only a few words are spoken between the two.
Then, naturally, something has to come and upset the balance of these sad characters' lives...and his name is Zhang Zhichen (Wei Li).
After ten years, he returns to where he and the husband, Dai Liyan (Yu Shi) grew up. A decade certainly puts things in perspective. The last time that Zhichen saw Meimei, she was six. Now, she's turning into a young lady; but his interests lie elsewhere.
Yuwen and Zhichen knew each other those ten painful years ago, but neither of them know anything about the other one. It's a devastating blow to learn that the woman you loved has married your childhood friend, but no one has rights on love.
Zhichen's arrival starts putting events into motion—here we have a classic problem in need of solution. "Spring in a Small Town" would be the predecessor to movies like "sex, lies, and videotape"...where the visitor starts making the main characters questioning their lives.
Yuwen seems to try to test herself, she wants to prove that she's over this man...but we can plainly see that that's not true.
Her husband is oblivious to all that goes on around him, he didn't even know that his wife and Zhichen knew each other.
As Yuwen tries to be warmer to her old lover, she becomes colder to her husband, who didn't do anything wrong.
The characters feel real, they are selfish and honest—not some caricature of life that makes everyone look nice and pretty.
The film tries to create genuine strife, but I just didn't buy it. The post-war sentiments and the ten years later bits feel a bit old and used...like a version of Tolstoy meeting Billy Wilder.
Though by the time it's over, "Spring in a Small Town" is a success, but at what?...I'm not sure. It's certainly classy and revolutionary; but a masterpiece it is not.
The film is rich in culture and relational sentiments; however, you're not finding a diamond in the rough. You might like it though, it was named the best movie made in the Chinese-language in 2004...so I guess some people like it.
But I got tired of the whining and the stolen glances, it's been done better dozens of times.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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