Spring in a Small Town Review


Spring in a Small Town, which is recognized as one of the best movies throughout Chinese history, has won worldwide fame and recognition. This complicated emotional movie portrays the conflict between traditional morality and personal happiness. The small focused look into a love triangle reflects the society as a whole and is a metaphor for the conflict for the  Chinese culture between old and new.

Fei Mu is the most famous pre -1949 communist revolution film director in China. Spring in the Small Town was produced in 1948 and marked the peak of his movie career. Spring in the Small Town has a strong focus on personal emotion, feeling, and characters. Also, its triangle love story challenged the social value and morality at that time. The movie was not famous immediately because communist party banned the movie. However, the movie was rediscovered later on and received wide recognition domestically and internationally.

The movie is about a triangle love story between three main characters, Liyan Dai, Yuwen Zhou and Zhichen Zhang. Liyan and Yuwen have married for eight years throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War. However, there are no love feelings in their marriage, and Liyan has been seriously sick. Therefore, Yuwen takes a role of serving him instead of considering him the person whom she loves. They lead a hopeless and routine life. Everything changes when Zhichen, Yuwen’s previous lover and Liyan’s good friend, has an unexpected visit to the home. Yuwen’s love and hope seems triggered by her memory of Zhichen. However, still a wife for his sick husband Liyan, she is in great agony since her pursuit of love with Zhichen conflicts with her traditional morality to her husband.

The movie is in the special period of Chinese history, right after the Second Sino-Japanese War and before the civil war. The whole society and infrastructure was in ruin after the eight-year long war period. However, people started to have some hope to lead new lives. Also, as the society advanced from the emergence of western economy and development, modern beliefs started to impact the society on a large scale. They were merging into people’s deeply rooted traditional Confucius culture. Liyan represents the old belief and traditional Chinese society with his stand as a master in a house with an old servant. Zhichen is considered the new hope for China: energetic, healthy and westernized. However, Yuwen is kind of in between, who wants to pursue her happiness with her modern thoughts but is still tied in her old belief of morality. Yuwen’s dilemma denotes the conflict between old and new after the end of Sino-Japnaness War.

The movie interestingly takes an objective standpoint for this sensitive love triangle situation between Liyan Dai, Yuwen Zhou and Zhichen Zhang. There is no right or wrong for different characters. The objective view of director greatly challenges the ideology of the society and is considered brave and groundbreaking by the general public. The whole theme of the movie is about conflicts between the morality and personal happiness for Yuwen. On one hand, Yuwen wants her true love, Zhichen, in life. On the other hand, Yuwen wants to still have responsibility for the family and her husband. Which is right? The director is trying to be objective, because both point of view has a cultural implication and cannot be judged right or wrong.

The director is trying to enable the viewer to reflect with his closed distance shoot and slow pace. Throughout the movie,  Fei Mu carefully uses a medium close-up shoot technique for the characters at a really close distance. From the short distance, we can clearly see the characters’ emotion and facial expression. The camera always stays static for a couple of seconds for the medium close-up shoot. From the slow pace, we can see the characters’ emotion. Actually, the whole movie is slow in pace, giving us plenty of time to carefully observe the scene and reflect on situation. The viewer can peacefully enjoy the movie and follow the train of thought of the characters.

As one of the most famous and influential movie in the Chinese history, Spring in a Small Town shows its special beauty from its slow pace and strong emotion. History, culture, love, hope, responsibility, morality and many other aspects all mix into this triangle love story and enable the viewer to reflect on the characters and the society as a whole.


Baidu Baike. Baidu, n.d.. Web. March 1, 2014. Feimu (early movie director). (费穆(中国早期电影导演)

Baidu Baike. Baidu, n.d.. Web. March 1, 2014. Spring in a Small Town (1948 Fei Mudirected movie).(小城之春(1948年费穆执导电影))