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Liyan and Yuwen live in post-war torpor, childless but with Liyan's school-aged sister. He coughs, imagining he has TB; Yuwan embroiders; they sleep in separate rooms. A surprise visit from Liyan's boyhood friend Zhang, a big city physician, wakes up the household. To Zhang's amazement, he discovers his friend's wife is his own youthful sweetheart. Possibilities abound: an affair, an arranged marriage of Zhang and Little Sister, now 16, or simply ending ennui and embracing vitality. Can a stifling atmosphere of Chinese Chekhov give way to spring? Alcohol at a birthday party speeds resolution. Written by
An alternative title of this film could have been the one for a recent local play in town: 'Tiny ripples in still waters' (as literally translated. 'Still waters' obviously have nothing to do with the fictitious rock band featured in 'Almost Famous'. It just means a dead pool).
This film reminds me immediately of the Italian gem Facing Windows I saw recently in Toronto, for which my comments started out thus: 'The ripple-in-a-mundane-life type of story is difficult to handle'. Both films deal with a stagnant marriage, and the ripple created by the intrusion of a man. The circumstances are however different, but I am not going to start comparing and contrasting the two. For Springtime, the main cause of the marital problem is the husband's (Liyan) lingering ailment. His home-coming childhood friend (Zeichen) turns out to be also the wife's (Yuwen) teen sweetheart. The only two other characters are Liyan's little sister, just turning 16, and a faithful old manservant.
The pace is slow but the film is absorbingly mesmerising. Behind the deceptively simple dialogue is an undercurrent of ebbs and flows of emotions, particularly in the case of Hu Jingfan playing Yuwen. (Look beyond the surface of the words she speaks into the subtly varying tone, the nuances, and the ever so slight shift in the timbre of her voice). Masterly use of a slowly panning camera creates the melancholy mood sustaining the intriguing lure of the film.
Particularly worth mentioning is the brilliant climax of the 'drinking' scene. I won't spoil it with inapt descriptions. If Hu Jingfu's performance has been subtle hitherto, it's sparkling in that scene.
Film critics in town who have seen the original 1948 version claim that it is even better. Hope to get a chance to see it. In any event, this re-make is well worth recommending to those who have the capacity to appreciate.
* * * *
Update - March 2005.
Have now seen the original, which certainly lives up to its reputation, but can't agree with the verdict that the remake is inferior.
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