Daily Archives: July 9, 2004

The Last Of The Mohicans

French director Maurice Tourneur, father of cult director Jacques, was a commanding figure during the silent era and a very talented visual stylist in his own right, known for his taste and subtlety. This was especially evident during the teens and early 20s, when he was working in the U.S. on many prestigious projects, including this lovely 1920 adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel about the French-Indian War. After Tourneur was incapacitated by an accident, Clarence Brown took over the direction, setting the stage for his own distinguished career. 73 min. (JR)… Read more »

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

English postnoir specialist Mike Hodges follows up his successful Croupier with this moody, stylistically assured 2003 feature, written by Trevor Preston. Superficially it’s a standard-issue revenge story set among gangsters (rather like Hodges’s first film, the 1971 version of Get Carter), but upon closer inspection its story and characters grow more mysterious, ultimately bordering on the unfathomable. After being raped by a respectable businessman (Malcolm McDowell), a small-time London drug dealer (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) kills himself, and his older brother (Clive Owen), a dour and solitary ex-gangster enduring some inexplicable depressive penance, returns to the city to get even. Charlotte Rampling seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else, but she doesn’t say much. R, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Springtime in a Small Town

Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Horse Thief), one of China’s greatest living filmmakers, has had a difficult career because of his political outspokenness, and this 2002 feature was his first since The Blue Kite in 1993. It’s a remake of the 1948 masterpiece Spring in a Small City by Fei Mu, widely considered the nation’s greatest film by Mandarin speakers but tragically neglected by almost everyone else. A young doctor visits an ailing aristocrat, who’s an old friend, and the man’s alienated wife, who was the doctor’s first sweetheart years earlier. The only other characters are the aristocrat’s sister and aging male servant, and the concentration gives Tian’s magisterial mise en scene enormous potency. This erotically charged drama may not be quite as great as the original, but it’s an amazing and beautiful work just the same. In Mandarin with subtitles. 116 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Reviewed this week in Section One. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Love Among the Ruins [SPRINGTIME IN A SMALL TOWN]

From the Chicago Reader (July 9, 2004). — J.R.

Springtime in a Small Town

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang

Written by Ah Cheng

With Hu Jingfan, Wu Jun, Xin Baiqing, Ye Xiaokeng, and Lu Sisi.

It’s strange and very telling that the film most highly regarded in the Chinese-speaking world –especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan — is hardly known outside China. Fei Mu’s 1948 Spring in a Small City, as it’s usually called in English, is a film I doubt I ever would have seen if a Chinese friend hadn’t sent me a subtitled copy taken from a rare showing on SBS, Australia’s state-funded multicultural TV channel, several years ago.

Once I discovered that Fei Mu’s black-and-white film lives up to its reputation, I mentioned it casually to a local Chinese film buff, who told me it was readily available at the video store he frequents in Chinatown. Why then are English subtitled versions so scarce? After all, the film was a key inspiration for Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000), which has been savored by non-Asians across the globe. And Tian Zhuangzhuang’s color remake of Fei Mu’s classic, Springtime in a Small Town (2002), showing this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, is no less accessible.… Read more »