When Fei Mu died in Hong Kong in 1951, the 45-year-old film director probably expected his movie “Spring in a Small Town” to silently fade into history.
“There will never be an end of the art path, and sometimes I feel so lonely, because I don’t know if the others understand me, or there’s someone out there doing the same thing. But that’s art, the art path is always filled with solitude under a vast sky,” he once lamented.
Today, however, “Spring in a Small Town,” a film released in 1948, was declared the greatest Chinese film ever made by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society in 2005.
In 1995, Fei was honored with the China Film Century Award for Film Directing by the government.
“Film Poet — Fei Mu’s Documentation Exhibition,” an exhibit organized by Suzhou Art Museum, Shanghai Film Critics Association and Suzhou Celebrity Museum, guides visitors through Fei’s life, aesthetic taste and his movies by showcasing 188 items related to the great man at Suzhou Art Museum.
Born in Shanghai in 1906, Fei directed 13 films, 13 dramas and wrote eight film scripts in his lifetime. Known for his artistic style and costume dramas, he made his first film, “Night in the City,” in 1933 at the age of 27, which was met with both critical and popular acclaim. Unfortunately this film is now lost.
Throughout the 1930s, Fei became a major talent in the film industry, with movies like “Blood on Wolf Mountain” in 1936, which is often seen as an allegory of China’s war with Japan, and “Song of China” in 1935, one of the few films that had a limited release in the United States.
Fei’s legacy as one of China’s greatest directors was sealed with “Spring in a Small Town,” a period where no one seemed to care about a love triangle in post-war China.
In 1949, Fei, along with many other artists and intellectuals, moved to Hong Kong and died two years later. Then, he and his work fell into obscurity and most of his filmography was forgotten and ignored.
It was not until the 1980s when the China Film Archive reopened after being closed down during the “cultural revolution,” did Fei’s movies find a new audience after they made a new print and reproduced it again. Today the original negative of “Spring in a Small Town” is still kept at the China Film Archive.
Apart from some related materials, posters and pictures of Fei’s movies, several of his movies are also screened at the exhibit. The highlight is a purposely made on-site replica of a scene from the “Spring in a Small Town,” accompanied by an old melody at that time.
Visitors will be immediately drawn into the scenario from a by-gone era. The film can be distinguished from those earlier works by its more mature treatment of inter-personal conflicts, particularly in the sense that there are no villains or antagonists except for time and circumstance.
Fei applied many long shots in the movie, conjuring an oriental aesthetic taste, calm and sad but not wounded.
Today some critics even say that each scene in this movie is akin to a traditional ink-wash painting, elegant and poetic, purposely fusing the visual language into the different subtle layers previously found in Chinese ancient poems.
“This movie reached such a high level at that time, that even today, no film could be compared with it,” said Zhang Yimou, one of China’s most renowned film directors.
In 2002, the film was remade by Tian Zhuangzhuang as “Spring time in a Small Town” to pay special tribute to Fei.
Date: Through November 25, 9am-4pm
Venue: Suzhou Art Museum
Address: 2075 Renmin Rd