Springtime In A Small Town Zhuangzhuang Tian

After ten years of state-enforced silence, Zhuangzhuang Tian is back in business, and his latest, Springtime in a Small Town, turns out to be worth the wait. Based on a well-regarded 1948 melodrama by Fei Mu, it tells the story of a sour man suffering from poor health and a loveless marriage; he welcomes a doctor friend into his stately but bombed-out home, unaware that the doctor and his wife have a romantic history. Thus the stage is set for awkward exchanges and undeclared desires as the three principals try their best to talk around their feelings until one alcohol-fuelled night blows their cover. Though of the same generation of Chinese filmmakers as Hero's Zhang Yimou, Tian's less bombastic — he's no slouch in the visual department but he's more interested in finding the frame for his delicately tense drama than in blowing you out of your seat with pretty colours. Thus he tracks around his protagonists, viewing them as if removed from it all as they deny the feelings that are all too obvious; it's not an all-knowing, godlike perspective but that of a disinterested and sympathetic third party. There are times when the film is a little too careful and subdued for its own good, but then there's the scene where the principles row down a river, singing a song set to the "Blue Danube Waltz," where image and subtext meld to perfection. Forget Hero, this is the Chinese release of the year, no matter what the Miramax'd throngs would have you believe. Plus: "making of" featurette and an interview with Tian. (Sony Music)