Spring in a Small Town (1948) - full transcript

Following WWII and with China brought to it's knees by the actions of the Japanese, prior to the rise of the Communists, led by Chairman Mao. This is the time during which Fei Mu's film takes place. Wei Wei plays a woman who lives a lonely life, shackled by her care for her gentle, but ill husband (Shi Yu)- that is until her first love reappears into her life. This is Fei's penultimate film as director, but is still enjoyed by many today as one of his best works. It has now been a firm favorite of many since it was restored in the 80's by the China Film Archive and some rate it as one of the greatest Chinese movies in history.

Spring in a Small Town

Directed by Fei Mu

Living in a small town, nothing ever

As morning draws nigh, l?ve finished

l take a long walk along the city wall.

Already a habit with me.

Anyone walking along this wall

feels as though they?d left the world

The eyes do not see. The mind does not

Were it not for the hand in my basket,

and medicine for my husband, l might not
go home at all.

The house is in an alley.

Through a small bridge is the back door of
our house

Now the house has only one servant.

Old Huang wastes the medicine, pouring it
over the back gate.

Personal superstition.

One half of the house has been destroyed
by cannon fire.

The main quarters is uninhabitable.

l live with my husband Dai Liyan in the
garden courtyard.

Young Master,

Young Master,

Young Master . . . Already out.

Liyan doesn?t see me more than once a

We don?t say more than three words to
one another.

l go out to buy groceries.

He goes out to the garden early in the

He hides in the garden. When called, he
can?t be found.

He says he has tuberculosis. l think it?s

l don?t have the courage to die.

l think he lacks the courage to live.

Young Master,

You run into the garden every morning.

You forgot to take your scarf. lt?s cold.

lt?s spring.

The morning is still pretty cold.

Not cold.

My health is like this house. Destroyed
beyond all repair.

You should take care of yourself.

Your heart needs to lighten up.

The house can always be rebuilt.

Don?t we have peace now?

After eight years of war?


Should we change your prescription

No change.

My wife has brought the medicine,

Yes, she bought vegetables too.

Has little sister gone to school?

She has not.

Little sister lives on the other side of the

Doesn?t seem like they came from the
same mother.

She lives in her own little world.

Brother, brother.

Brother. l made this little landscape.

Tell me if you like it.

l?ll bring it to you.

Don?t come down.

Go to school.

Her elder brother constantly indulges in
his past glories.

Younger sister doesn?t remember any part
of that.

With the house in shambles,

Liyan feels all the pain, suffering and guilt.

But his little sister feels none of it.

With the vegetables, l entered the kitchen.

Then l got the medicine l bought for him.

l saw his face; we do not speak. Perhaps
words separate us.


Now he calls me.

Home from shopping.


From now on, Old Huang should get the

He has enough to do. Besides, it?s my job.

l worry when you go out alone.

You always talk like this.

l failed you.

No you haven?t.

l can?t stand it being this way.

Here is your medicine. Same prescription.

Thanks, but no thanks.

l?ll get some more.

Don?t walk away. l want to talk.

Last night, were you okay?


Can you sleep soundly?

Depends on the sleeping pills.

Why are you acting like this?

Why so angry?

l don?t know. l can?t help it.

l?m a failure. My family fortune handed
down for generations,

gone under MY watch.

We?ve been married for eight years. l?ve
been sick for six.

Lived separately for two . . . three years.

Little sister is young.

And you?re the only one that takes care of

l don?t want you to live like this.

You spend your days doing embroidery in
her room,

living alone day after day.

l don?t know if you?ll abandon me or l?ll
abandon you.

Don?t say anymore.

We should if we want to discuss this.

What?s there to discuss?

You can do it by yourself.

l pushed away my own door.

Sat in my own bed.

l know not where the day leads.

Day in and day out. One after another.

Picked up the embroidery to go to little

Seems in her room, the sun shines a little

l?ve long forgotten the past.

My entire life, l tried not to think about it.

Who knows if there will ever be one
person -- ?

He came from the train station.

He walked over the city wall.

l had no idea he was coming.

How did he know l lived here?

He knew the back way.

His feet trampled the medicine.

He knocked on the door. No one heard.

He knows his way around Liyan?s house.

Around the lane, into the garden.

Liyan, Liyan!

He calls him. l didn?t know he was his

He jumped over the wall into the garden.

Liyan, Liyan!

He recognized his voice.


This is so unexpected.

You don?t believe it?s really me.

l doubt anyone else answers to your
name. Had to be you.

Zhang Zhichen.

l came in through your wall.

What breeze brought you here?

The southeast and northwest.

Yes, how have you been?

lt?s you.

lt?s me.

lt?s you.

lt?s me.

lt?s been ten years.

Ten years.

What a surprise.

Where have you been?

Oh, for several years, l?ve been to

Hankou, Chungking, Changsha,

Guilin, Kunming, Guiyang

l?ve followed the news of the war.

Did you graduate in medicine?

l?m a doctor now.

Congratulations, congratulations.

And you?

l experienced many hardships, but l

My house had been destroyed. l waited for
you to come back.

Really. Anything else happen?

l got married.

Congratulations, congratulations.

Master, you have a guest?

Old Huang.

This young man!

lt?s me, Old Huang.

Old Huang? You?re hair isn?t even white.

Liyan, he watched us grow up when we
were little.

Young Master, where have you been all
these years.

ln the hinterland.

Old Huang, tidy up the small den.

Let Zhichen stay for a few days.

Tell the missus we have a guest for dinner.

And prepare a chicken for dinner.

Master, you should stay a little while

Young Master misses you.

l can stay for an extra day.

l?ll take your bags.

lt?s okay.

l?ll go tell Daughter-in-law.

Where?s your little sister?

She?s gone to school.

We need to talk

spanning 5000 years.

and bridging 9000 miles.


When Old Huang first told me, l had no
idea it was him.

- Daughter-in-law
- What is it?

We have a guest, all the way from

Young Master has asked him to stay in the

He told me to ask you to prepare a



Young Master is letting him stay in the two
small dens.

Has he any baggage?

l?ve taken care of it. l?ll prepare the
bedding too.

What?s his name?

He?s an old schoolmate of Young Master?s.
A master Zhang.

He said his surname?s Zhang. lt could be

Or maybe not.


Young Master wants you to introduce
yourself to our guest.

My mind was flustered. l maintained my

lt can?t be him.

l changed my clothes.

l tidied up my hair.

lt?s a common name, l told myself.

l stood on the covered walkway, but could
not see him clearly.

She?s here.

He does not know l married Liyan.

Why did you come? Why did you need to

l see you.

This is my wife, Yuwen.

This is Zhang Zhichen, my old friend and

Sister, it is you.

Now, l?ve become his ??sister.??

You two know each other?

We grew up next door to one another.

Marvelous! Let?s sit inside.

Old Huang, where?s sister?

ln her room.

Sister, where are you?

Why aren?t you embroidering? ls Brother

Keep it down. We have a guest.



Dr. Guo?

l?m gonna take a peek.

Just me. Recognize me?

Little sister, when you were six years old,

you were this high, and now, whoo!

how did you get here?

Hmm, how DlD l get here?


Now that l?ve sung, tell me that story you

lt won?t come out.

Why not?

Because l?m stuffed with lotus buns.

Here you are, Master Zhang.

Both these rooms are ready for you. You
surely remember.

When Master Dai was alive,

he set them aside for young Master to

Come in.

Don?t make tea, Old Huang. l don?t drink

You don?t drink tea?

l don?t wash.

Not even your face?

You haven?t gone to bed yet?

What?s that?

These are orchids.

No need to put out flowers at night.

Daughter-in-law told me to set them out
for you.

l make trouble for you, Old Huang.

No trouble at all.

Time for bed.

Please come in.

l didn?t know it was you.

You brought this water here yourself?

ln case you got thirsty.

l don?t drink tea at night.

l?ll leave it in case you need to wash up.

Thank you.

Your towels and toothbrush. All new.

Thanks, l have my own.

You?re too kind.

lf you need it, use it.

Been ten years since we last saw each

Old Huang found some candles for you.

After midnight, there?s no electricity.

When the steam whistle sounds at
midnight, they shut the lights.

l?m ready for bed. Won?t need the candles.

lt?s awful for us to make you sleep here.

Nothing here is how it should be.

Not at all. l have all that l need.

l didn?t know you were our guest.

lt?s me.

Are you missing any bedding?

Not at all.

You need an extra sheet. Gets cold at

l?m not afraid of the cold.

l?ll get them anyway.

No. really. There?s no need.

l should.

l?ll be right back.

Don?t go to so much trouble.

No, l?ll be right back.

Are you feeling ill?

Do you have a fever?

l don?t. No fever.

l brought an extra sheet and blanket.

l?ll make the bed.

You?ve gone to so much trouble.

No trouble at all.

l?ll do it myself. l?ll do it myself.

Thank you.

How is his illness?

Not too bad.

He?s had tuberculosis for a long time. ls he
in any danger?

No danger.

Will he be okay?

He?ll be okay.

Tell me the truth.

His heart isn?t in good shape.

But you shouldn?t tell him.

Oh, why don?t you give him a check-up

See you tomorrow.

Oh, is he asleep?

He?s asleep.

Starting tomorrow, have him sit in the sun
every morning.

These past few days, we?ve had good

lt?s been sunny every day.

lt will be clear again tomorrow.

Yes, l think so.

See you tomorrow.

See you tomorrow.

What?s that?

The electricity?s about to go off.

Sounds like an air raid siren.

So why are you turning on the lights?

Because they?re about to go off.

Why don?t you sit down for a while?

The orchids smell really good.


Have a seat.

See you tomorrow.

See you tomorrow.

Thank you.

The morning of the second day.

Brother Zhang!

Hey, come on in. You look nice in your
school clothes

What are you hiding behind your back?

l wanted to give you something.




No. Here.

Wonderful. A little potted landscape.

There?s a hill and a tree . . .

A pine tree.

And a little grassy spot. Thank you.

Do you like it?

Like it? l love it.

l made it myself.

Then l like it even more.

ls your brother up yet.

He?s up. He?s sitting outside in the sun.

Are you making a house call?

l?m going to examine your brother.

Brother?s not really sick, is he?

He?s a little ill.

l think it?s mental. Always in a bad mood.

Hey! Brother Zhang, you--

Oh, so little sister is all grown up.

Those orchids smell a little too sweet.
That?s no good.

Oh really.

How am l doing?

No real problem. Just sit in the sun.

Morning, big sister.


How funny. Yuwen told me to sit in the sun

Even better, you shouldn?t spend so much

cooped up at home.

Big brother. Today?s Sunday. l want to go

Okay, where to?

l want to go sightseeing with Brother

Come on, do you want to go?


You really should go to town. You?ve been
away for ten years.

l?d been meaning to.

l want sister to go too. Sister!

Will you come with us?

Can l?

Of course you can. Let?s go together.

Swell! The four of us then. Go change
your clothes, sister.

Yuwen, Let?s all go.

We?re all going together!

We went out walking with no particular

Somehow we ended up on the city wall. l
walked a step behind.

He stopped . . . He stopped and waited for

We went rowing along the river. Little
sister sang a song.

The morning of the third day.

Good Morning.


After breakfast, make something so we
can take a walk.

And talk things over.

Where to?

The city wall.

A feeling of helplessness came over me

on top this broken-down, hollowed out city

How long do you feel like staying up here?

Like this? l could stay all day.

Would it be better if we walked someplace

Wherever you like.

How come you never have an opinion?

Because it?s up to you.

You?re the one who asked me out for a

l?ll go wherever you want me to go.

You?re not the same person l used to

Have l changed that much?

No. Before the war, if l had asked you to
go out,

you?d say, ??Whatever you like.??

And if l didn?t ask you to go with me,

you?d still say, ??Whatever you like.??

lsn?t that what l just said?

But l didn?t wait for you. l didn?t do
??whatever you like.??

lf l asked you to come away with me,

will you still say, ??Whatever you like???

Do you really mean that?

How?s my pulse? ls it okay?

lt?s fine.

Do you think l?ll get better?

Of course.

What kind of medicine should l take?

Main thing is get plenty of rest and take
care of yourself.

Medicine is secondary.

And don?t get too angry.

You mean, at her?

Not necessarily at her.

l don?t know why, but my temper has
gotten worse and worse.

Because of your health.

My wife is as good as they come. But
because of my illness,

our marriage isn?t normal.

There?s nothing out of the ordinary.

You wouldn?t know. All the things a wife
ought to do.

She?s done.

Grocery shopping, cooking,

l?m grateful but so ashamed

that she?s stuck with a husband as sick as
l am.

l?m can?t cry. Nor can l laugh.

She cries alone in her room, never smiles
in front of others.

She only performs her wifely duties for

She?s cold.

The kinder she is, the colder she feels.

Do you get what l?m saying?

l do. But l disagree on one point.

What?s that?

She?s not cold.

We?ve been friends for years.

Can you talk to her?

l had no idea you two knew each other.

lt would have been better if she had
married you.

Don?t say such things

l?m not like this with him because you?re

l know Liyan is good to me.

The year we got married, l forced myself
to like him.

When he got sick, he became more

l felt empty, at a loss.

All l thought of was you.

After one, two years, Liyan became more
of a responsibility.

He became my husband. l serve him.

And l serve him faithfully.

My heart is yours, but l feel sorry for him.

What would you have me do?

What are we going to do?

Unless we.


l leave.

Unless he dies.

l regret saying that. Never even thought
about it,

not even to myself. How could l have said

Zhang! Zhang!

Zhang! Zhang!

Another Sunday. The ninth day since he




Why are you shouting?

lt?s Sunday. l?m looking for Brother Zhang

so l can ask him to go out for some fun.

So you like spending time with him?

He?s inside. Why call for him out here?

How should l know where he is?

Don?t shout. lt?s not proper.

Brother, if you run into him, tell him l?m
looking for him.



You?re out here. Didn?t you hear my sister

Liyan, l?m leaving.

What? You want to leave again?

l?ve worn out my welcome. lt?s too much

No, that won?t do. You must stay.

Come inside. My sister?s looking for you.

Why don?t you take her out and have
some fun?

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

Well done.

Zhang, l?ve never danced before.

Little sister, l didn?t know you could sing
and dance.

You don?t seem to be the offspring of the
Dai family.

Does your brother approve of this?

neither approves nor disapproves.

l think he just wants to be a bookworm.

Studying at home all day long.

Seems you enjoy climbing up atop the city

Why?s that?

Only interesting place in this town.

You can walk along this wall forever.

When you look in the distance, you can?t
see anything at all.

Then you realize how small the world is.

You know in a small town like this,

especially with a family like mine,

you could suffocate to death.

Look at Big Sister. Everyday when she?s
done shopping,

she walks along the city wall.

Maybe it?s the only way she can let go a

Only when she lets go, she?ll find the
strength to move on.

Brother Zhang? What?s on your mind?

Were you listening to me?

l heard.

So what?s on your mind?

l was thinking maybe you?ll become a poet

or a philosopher when you grow up.

Nonsense! Who knows what you were
really thinking?

l was thinking that when l graduate, l?d like
to go to Shanghai

and study at a high school.

You think you can help me find one?

Think you can help me find a school?

Oh, of course.

We had a great time. l?m all sweaty.


See you later.

You haven?t gone out?

No place to go.

Are you upset.

No, l?m not.

We should talk.

l?ll come tonight.

Promise me something.

Don?t come to see me again behind
Liyan?s back.


l?ve been thinking about this. l have to ask


Where did the two of you go today?

On top of the city wall.

Nice view?

You?re the one who showed it to me.

Seems you and sister are getting close.

l watched her grow up.

She?s sixteen this year.

Still a child.

A child! And you take her around all over
the place.

Who do you think you?re fooling?

What?s that supposed to mean? l don?t

She?s Liyan?s little sister and l?m his wife.

She?s my responsibility.

Then l won?t take her out anymore.

When l see him, l?ll tell Liyan l came to talk
to you.

l won?t do anything behind his back.

See you tomorrow.

Don?t be mad. l was only playing with you.

Please sit. We have to talk.

What do you have to say?

What do you think of Zhichen?

Why do you ask?

Don?t ask questions. Just tell me what you
think of him.

Any friend of yours must be a good man.

No, he?s a much better man than l.

Why do you bring him up?

Little sister turns sixteen this year.

You see. l want her to wait a few years for

You mean, you want him to wait a few
years for her.

Right. Let Zhichen wait a few years for

But will she wait?

That?s why l wanted to ask you to discuss
it with her.

l?m her brother. l?d feel awkward.

So you want me to play matchmaker.

Talk it over with her.

And Zhichen?

Do you want me to discuss it with him

l?ll tell him myself.

Zhichen might not want to wait that long.

Does he have someone else?

He seems to get along very well with

lt?s the perfect match.

So that?s how you see it.

Your little sister is still young. Still in

Do you really want to fill her head with
those ideas?

l don?t think l can do it.

Just test the waters.

There?s always time later.


lt?s getting late. Go to bed.

You?re not taking sleeping pills anymore,
are you?

No. Not anymore.

l?ll see you tomorrow.

Please don?t go.

Good morning.

When you?re through with breakfast,

make up some excuse to meet me at the
city wall.

What for?

What for?

You?re . . . You?re going grocery shopping

He wants me to play matchmaker for you.


Didn?t you get along nicely with his little

You think it?s funny?

He?s assigned me a task, and l?m carrying
it out.

l?ve made my offer. Now it?s up to you to
consider it.

You?re joking?

l?m perfectly serious.

l?m telling you, the whole thing is a joke.

Has Liyan thought about how young his
sister is?

Today?s her sixteenth birthday.

Oh. The year l left, weren?t you just

Only we didn?t have a matchmaker.

You seem to be implying that a sixteen-

is old enough to be engaged. Are you
saying that?

No, l?m not. l am not willing. Satisfied?

Yuwen, l?m begging you.

Stop pushing me; stop torturing me.

l?ve had enough.

l regret l didn?t arrange for a matchmaker
back then.

Why didn?t you? Weren?t you willing back

Why didn?t you?

l was willing.

Then why didn?t you?

Wasn?t it because your mother didn?t

But she?s gone now.

You?re married.

l suppose if he offers his sister, it?d be the
next best thing.

l have my own problems.

l don?t know if l want to go away with you .


You?re turning sixteen. Have some wine!

Who?s going to toast me?

You know me. l don?t want to drink.

l?ll just eat some more.

Sister made so much food today.

How about a drinking game?

- Brother tried to teach me, but l?m still no
- Go play.

l?ll follow you.

ls that how you play?

l don?t want to play anymore.

But you have to drink the forfeit.

You can?t drink that.

l?ll drink it.

l don?t want to play that anymore. Let?s
play something else.

Now you drink.

Liyan, you?ve been to Szechwan.

Let?s play Szechwan style.

Like this?

l can?t drink wine.

- l?ll drink it.
- l will.

Old Huang!

Old Huang, have some wine!

The young miss can drink?

- Can you drink wine?
- Sure she can.

Old Huang, let?s play.

Oh! Old Huang wins.

This is your birthday. l should toast you

Then l?ll have a little too.

l?ll play a game with you.

Not ??guessing fingers?? or ??rock paper

l?ll play you one that goes like this . . .

l know that one!

We used to play that back home.

Big Sister loses.

Hold on. Let?s use bigger cups.

Old Huang. Bring us bigger cups.

This time, three rounds.

Whoever loses drinks three cups.

Three big cups!

You lose. One more time.

You lose.

Zhang! You?re going to get drunk.

Zhang is getting drunk.

Oh, that?s where you are.


As if in a drunken stupor,

As if in a dream.

The moon rises high in the heavens.

There is a light breeze.

Let me in there.

Don?t go in there.

Thank you.

He needs to take a sleeping pill.

He thinks maybe l will kill myself.

l?m left with only regret.

l want to die.

l can no longer face the world.

He remembers that Liyan has some
sleeping pills.

Who?s there?

lt?s me. Zhichen.

You?re still awake?

l have a slight headache.

You?ve had too much to drink.

Can?t sleep.

l have some medicine over there. Eight
tablets left.

l only need one.

Help yourself.


lf you can?t see, l have matches.

No need.

l found them.

l want to take one too.

One more won?t make you feel any better.

Don?t be ridiculous. You?re taking the
whole bottle.

Don?t take too much.

He pours out Liyan?s sleeping pills

and replaces them with vitamins.


lt?s me.

Still awake?

What do you mean?

What about your medicine?

Zhichen took it.

You can?t sleep either?

Strange. None of us seems to be able to

Go to bed.

Sit down. Sit down.

Please light the candle.

What for?

To see you with.

The moonlight is nice.

Light a candle.

Come here.

Do you know that l envy Zhichen?

He?s young and vital and healthy.

Since he?s been here,

the house has been full of life.

Past few years, l?ve made life miserable
for you.

But today, for once, l saw you happy.

l watched you while you were drinking.

You are still so youthful.

l nearly forgot you were my wife,

and l said to myself that l?m not fit to be
your husband.

l have to get better.

l have to keep living.

Otherwise, l may as well just die early

and stop making you suffer.

Tell me,

Are you still in love with Zhichen?

Tell me the truth.

What happened to your hand?

l burned it boiling water.

How could you be so careless?

Why are you telling me all this?

Yuwen?s out.


l?ve decided to leave today.

l was going to leave a letter for you last

But l just couldn?t go without saying

But why?

l have to go.

Last time you wanted to leave,

l convinced you to stay.

l still need you here.

Your illness isn?t that serious.

Just be sure to take care of your heart.

l?m no use to you here.

lt?s not about me.

lt?s Yuwen.

lf you stayed here, she?ll be happier.

Yuwen needs you.

l nearly did something truly inhuman.

Please trust her.

l take responsibility for everything that
happened here.

Thanks for the medicine.

l hope you?ll stay.

l need to change my life.

l won?t go over to little sister?s room

He told me not to once.

Young Master, will you not eat breakfast?

Shut the door.

No, just leave it open.

Daughter-in-law, would you like breakfast?

l want to live.

l have to tell Zhichen to go away.

The first time he?s been inside my room in

Young Master, would you like a snack?

Young Master?

Young Master?

Daughter-in-law! Come quickly!

Something is wrong with the Master!

Go get his sister!

Old Huang

First find Master Zhang. Quickly!

Master Zhang! Master Zhang!

The Master has passed out. Come

Fetch my medical bag, quickly.

When did you find him like this?

Just now.

lt was Old Huang who found him?

Found him here when he came to bring
him some food.

Does he have a chance?

You have to save him for me.

Thank you.

Young Master.

Go tell his sister.

Brother . . .

ls he--?

Sister, what?s wrong with him.

He was okay just now.

What could have done this?

You?re with him all day long.

You should know what ailment he suffers

Brother . . . Brother.

Sister, you mustn?t disturb him.

Zhang, you?re a doctor.

You have to save him! You can?t let him
die like this.

He won?t.

You?re his best friend. You have to save

l?ve already given him an injection.

What?s wrong with him?

He can?t hear me at all.

Old Huang, what can we do?

Why didn?t you call me sooner?



We?re all here.

We?re all here.

What were you thinking?

What?s wrong?

Why did you--?

Don?t talk with him too much.

Let him rest as quietly as possible.

How is he doing?

He wants to eat something.

l?ve already given him some food.

Try not to worry.

Zhang is leaving tomorrow.

When your summer vacation starts . . .


Big Sister

Big Sister,

Big Sister, you and Zhang are in love,
aren?t you?


Okay, we can stop here. You can go back.

l wanted to see you off.

Still a long ways to go. We?ll walk you to
the train station.

l meant to say it?s too far for you.

Are you afraid we won?t make it?

l can carry your luggage.

Fresh. Try not to make your brother angry.

lt wasn?t me who provoked him.

Do you think young Master will recover?

He?ll be fine.

So when will you come back?

Next spring.

No. Come in the summer.

The End

Captions by T. L. Young