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Palm Pictures presents
Springtime in a Small Town (Xiao cheng zhi chun) (2002)

“These last few years, Liyan has become a duty. He’s my husband. I have to look after him. But you’re the one in my heart.”
- Yuwen (Hu Jingfan)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: November 22, 2004

Stars: Hu Jingfan, Wu Jun, Xin Baiqing
Other Stars: Ye Xiaokeng, Lu Sisi
Director: Zhuangzhuang Tian

MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:51m:52s
Release Date: November 23, 2004
UPC: 660200308520
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B-B- B+

DVD Review

After accusing communist China of rampant human rights violations via his controversial films and views, director Tian Zhuangzhuang was blacklisted for several years. He has since emerged as one of China's most accomplished directors, crafting such films as The Blue Kite and Martin Scorsese's pick for the best film of the 1990s, The Horse Thief. Finally breaking through the shadow of government, Zhuangzhuang has delivered a quiet, gently powerful tale of romance in Springtime in a Small Town, a remake of a 1948 film by Fei Mu.

In post WWII China, Liyan (Wu Jun) is one of the few well-off survivors, living in a home that has outlived its bombed-out neighbors. Rubble surrounds the placid compound, creating a surreal landscape that reflects the turmoil of the relationship within the home's stone walls. Liyan is ill, suffering from a lung ailment that will not leave him. His wife, Yuwen (Hu Jingfan), is faithful and loyal to her husband, but she is growing distant from her frequently passive, solitary partner. A surprise guest knocks on the door: Zhang Zhichen (Xin Baiqing), a childhood friend of Liyan who has recently returned from the big city after completing his medical training. Yuwen knows him, too—they were once a couple, and their feelings have not subsided.

Liyan is surprised to learn the two have met, but he does not yet suspect they have a history together. He asks his old friend to stay a while, and Zhang obliges, ready and willing to catch up on old times. Liyan has it in mind to pair his friend with his young sister Dai Xiu (Lu Sisi), but as the days go by, Zhang and Yuwen grow closer, rekindling the fluttering love of their youth. Zhang is reluctant to let it go too far; his loyalty to Liyan is absolute and he cannot possibly consider betraying his best friend. Yuwen's attitude shifts from a lonely woman looking for companionship to occasional manipulation. She too is sick, from a kind of indifferent neglect, but Zhang refuses to give in. Liyan begins to see what is transpiring, and shows his love for his wife in a unique way, bringing the catharsis that may heal old wounds, or reopen them anew.

With a cast of relatively unknown actors, Tian Zhuangzhuang has created a subtle, slowly paced romance that upholds a refreshing sense of morality. The film has a sense of emotive layering that does not seem to favor any one outcome or individual, making the material more thoughtful and challenging. Detail is the tone, from a character's gestures to the richly crafted production design, creating a rubble-ridden world that seems abandoned, save for the presence of our main characters.

There is an immersive power in the film's visuals, which are a series of slow moving, wide tracking shots by veteran Mark Lee (In the Mood for Love, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Combined with long, unbroken takes that let the effective performances breathe, this is a finely crafted, hypnotic film. Indeed, patience is required to endure the slow pace, but if you have some, the rewards are worthwhile. Long scenes are padded by characteristic "pillow shots" of nature or characters, adding new dimensions. Zhuangzhuang is aware of cinema's power to create emotion without words. His concern is not dazzling with fine-tuned cinematography, but using the tools necessary to bring this very human story to life.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfer does not do the beautiful cinematography justice. The image has a very soft appearance, and many of the colors look washed out, depriving elements, such as the sky, of any bold hues. Blacks look kind of murky, and there is some noise to deal with. The print looks relatively clean, but the detail and color saturation are not up to snuff. This is still watchable.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Mandarinno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is a serviceable Mandarin 2.0 stereo track. Dialogue and musical score come through nicely, but voices tend to sound hollow and tinny at times.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Last Life in the Universe, Time of the Wolf, 6IXTYNIN9
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Scanavo Clear Keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio interview with director Tian Zhuangzhuang
Extras Review: There are some quality extras to be discovered. First, the disc comes in a clear keepcase with no insert, but the back of the cover art is printed with a cast listing and director's filmography that shows through the inside.

Making Springtime in a Small Town (59m:51s) is a lengthy, in-depth look at the film's production. Extensive behind-the-scenes footage is paired up with informative interviews with cast and crew. Tian Zhuangzhuang offers some very thoughtful, intriguing insights into his filmmaking process and discusses remaking the classic 1948 film by Fei Mu. This is presented in 1.33:1 with burned-in English subtitles.

Next is a radio interview with director Tian Zhuangzhuang by Leonard Lopate of WNYC Public Radio (16m:10s), conducted on May 6, 2004. Much like the previous featurette, the discussion includes comments on Zhuangzhuang's directing process—he makes an active effort to change his methods between films. Questions also cover interpreting the script, casting, cinematography and more. A translator speaks for the director throughout.

The theatrical trailer, previews for three other Palm releases and weblinks round out the extras.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Tian Zhuangzhuang's return is a triumphant, patient meditation on love and loyalty. Slowly paced, meticulous visuals create an affecting atmosphere. Palm's release is somewhat disappointing in the a/v department, but contains some fine extras.


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