Springtime in a Small Town. 2002. China. Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang. With Wu Jun, Hu Jingfan, Xin Baiqing. 35mm. In Mandarin; English subtitltes. 116 min.
Far more than a mere classic, Fei Mu's 1948 black-and-white Spring in a Small Town is lauded by some as the greatest Chinese film ever made. Set in the late 1940s, the film depicts a desolate existence, with ghostly figures inhabiting a town in ruin, ravaged by the Japanese invasion and an ongoing civil war. Three people—two men and a woman—are caught in a love triangle, but little is revealed, said, or done, as the three lifelessly dance around each other. Tian Zhuangzhuang's color remake marks a comeback for the director, who was banned from making films after the release of The Blue Kite (1993), which dealt with the political upheavals of the past decades. Lee's cinematography captures a physical and psychological landscape of full devastation. His long takes—sometimes as long as one take per scene and shot under extreme low-light conditions—are mesmerizing, and we witness the characters plunging deeper and deeper into the dark.