"Lan feng zheng" (The Blue Kite), a socio-critical portrait of life in Communist China, seems a bit too static in its quiet, sober realism, with the director's continuous effort to charge Maoism tending to veil everything else ; only in the last segment the movie became truly touching for me.
In "Xiao cheng zhi chun" (Springtime in a Small Town) a couple of characters are, zombie-like, dragging past ornamental decorations of dilapidating claustrophobic interiors, or alternately walking on ruins of an ancient city wall ; I found this hardly anything more than a rather boring, banal quasi-Chekhovian étude.
The last - in fact, the oldest - of the three, "Dao ma zei" (The Horse Thief), is quite different. Minimalistic in plot and dialogues, it might be described as a sort of ethnographic documentary with touches of folk ballad : lyrical cinema close to some works of the Armenian Parajanov, albeit, to my regret, lacking his emotional power. Tibetan nature is the vamp of the movie, local religion + magic its core. The former I do savour, the latter I struggle to grasp, owing to the fact that my knowledge of it is considerably limited.
The last reason why I don't praise "The Horse Thief" as Scorsese did, may lie in the quality of the Chinese region-free disc (gzbeauty). Nevertheless, the non-anamorphic image from an old print, dirty and scratched, is better than I expected. It can be zoomed to proper OAR 2,35:1 on my player, though there's no room for subtitles then. For second viewing, they are not necessary anyway.
For those who liked "The Horse Thief" but felt deprived of the epic/action element, I would recommend "Kekexili" (Mountain Patrol) by Tian's compatriot Lu Chuan.