And the Spring Comes -- Film Review

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
More Hong Kong Filmart reviews

HONG KONG -- It seems as though every film to be produced in Mainland China in the past decade has pivoted on either disaffected youth in the shadow of rapid development, the plight of migrant workers or the Three Gorges Dam. Jiang Wenli won an Asian Film Award nomination for her empathetic if occasionally too subtle performance as a disappointed woman approaching middle age in "And the Spring Comes," a welcome departure from what is quickly becoming rote subject matter.

Director Gu Changwei follows up his acclaimed "Peacock" with this unassuming drama about the sustaining value of personal dreams and how that clashes with reality. Though not as tightly focused as his first film, "Spring" is likely to generate festival interest and limited release in Asia.

The picturesque film seems to start in the middle of the story. Plain but supremely gifted opera singer Wang Tsailing (Jiang) has settled for a teaching job in a run of the mill industrial town. She refuses, however, to give up her aspirations at becoming a star with the national theater. As she navigates her lonely, routine life, she comes into contact with other frustrated artists: Would-be painter Sibao (Li Guangjie), singer Zhou Yu (Wu Guohua) and dancer Hu (Jiao Gang). Everything about Tsailing's life is disastrous, from her lack of romance and sex to her white lies about Beijing connections to her assorted humiliations.

Gu's decision to populate the film with so-called misfits and mavericks -- represented in the characters' ugliness, artiness and homosexuality -- goes halfway toward commenting on a cultural mindset that discourages individuality but never quite tips over into full-on criticism. The script by Li Qiang (also nominated for an AFA) does have several nuanced sequences of low-key effectiveness -- primarily Hu and Tsailing's public performances for a painfully apathetic crowd and Tsailing's defensive dismissal of her neighbor's marital woes.

But "Spring" is strongest when it is quietly depicting the blandness and uniformity of life in provincial China (aided enormously by naturalistic photography and wide shots that illustrate how impersonal the city is) and in ultimately accepting small triumphs found in existing within one's means.

Production companies: Asia Union Film and Media

Cast: Jiang Wenli, Li Guangjie, Wu Guohua, Jiao Gang
Director: Gu Changwei
Screenwriter: Li Qiang
Executive producer: Dong Ping
Producer: Er Yong
Director of photography: Wang Lei
Production designer: Yang Fan
Music: Dou Peng
Costume designer: Xiang Honghui
Editor: Yang Hongyu
No rating, 104 minutes