Spring in a Small Town (1948, Fei Mu)

A revered classic love triangle movie, like the Chinese Casablanca. One of the final films by Fei Mu (who was a character in Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage, directing one of Ruan Ling-yu’s now-lost films).

The print was all scratchy but you can tell it was a prestige picture, smartly shot with showy camera movements, touching without falling into dreary melodrama. Liyan is sickly, living in the remains of his once glorious house in the aftermath of the decade-long war against the Japanese. Yuwen is his lonely wife, who sleeps apart from her husband, and Dai is his little sister who seems untroubled by the war, the illness, the marital strife – just a regular girl.

L-R: interloper, little sister, heroine, her husband

Everything changes when Zhang comes to town. He’s Liyan’s good old friend, but also a former love of the wife. They get to know each other again, and it seems almost too easy for her to leave Liyan for the new guy, but tradition prevails and he wanders off, Liyan seeming generally more hopeful despite a suicide attempt earlier.

A couple unique qualities I liked: Yuwen’s occasional whispered narration, and the on-screen titles introducing each character/actor as they first appear.

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