Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Springtime in a Small Town

(Xiao cheng zhi chun, China, 2002)

This is remake of a 1948 film by Mu Fei that is widely regarded as one of the best examples of Chinese cinema. I haven’t seen that one. Mu was suppressed when Mao’s boys took over, and the director of this version, Zhuangzhuang Tian, was in the doghouse for 10 years under Mao’s descendants, not allowed to make films after some political incorrectness in a film called The Blue Kite (Lan feng zheng), which I also haven’t seen. Mu Fei managed to tell the story in 85 minutes, while this new guy takes 112, which may be the big problem. It is terribly, terribly slow. It is set in that brief period between the defeat of the Japanese, who committed unthinkable atrocities in China, and the rise of Mao, who outdid them. It’s a character study and nothing much happens, except internally. I read a review in The New York Times that said the movie “seems to have oddly sprung from the same heated template that produced the early 1950’s dramas of William Inge and Tennessee Williams in which a strutting sexual superman barges into a neurasthenic environment and wreaks chaos,” and compared it to Inge’s Picnic, which starred William Holden with his shirt off. What? WHAT!?!?!? Did we see the same movie?

I will say this: Chinese cinematographers are some of the best in the world. This one is shot by Mark Li Ping-bing (did his daddy invent the pachinko machine?), and every scene is beautiful. In movie after movie you can see these guys really love the land, and make it somehow look like ancient Chinese paintings.