Quest Status: 742 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #161
Spring in a Small Town is a true rarity: a Chinese film made during the short window between World War II and the rise of Mao. What's even more amazing is that a movie made during this brief and turbulent time period just happens to be one of the few Chinese films included on a master list of the 1,000 Greatest Films ever made.
The film might be best described as the Chinese Sunrise. The ailing heir to a family in decline and his long-suffering wife eke out their daily lives in a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of a small town. Despite the title, the town is never seen - confining our view completely to the insular world of the family estate and the crumbling wall that overlooks the town. One day, a visitor comes in from Shanghai, turning out to be both the husband's lost lost friend and the wife's long lost lover. Sparks immediately fly between the two reunited lovers, but they agonize over their respective responsibilities to the man of the house, resulting in near constant tension.
Although it was made during the sound era (which was late in coming to China), Spring in a Small Town has surprisingly bare-bones sound design. There is hardly any music in the movie, except for brief bookends at the beginning and end of the film. During non-dialogue scenes, the soundtrack often goes silent - even during one emotionally charged scene of passion. The result is a feeling of stifling suffocation, of almost unbearable tension. For a film about unrequited love, it's the perfect effect.