The Spring River Flows East, Part I: Eight War-Torn Years

dir. Cai Chusheng, Zheng Junli

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Two young lovers meet, marry, and are torn apart by the Japanese invasion in the first part of this decade-spanning epic.


"The most significant of the films of the late 1940s ... China's equivalent of Gone With the Wind" (Paul Clark). A milestone classic from two heavyweight Second Generation directors, the two-part The Spring River Flows East was released to widespread acclaim and massive success. Opening in early-thirties Shanghai and traversing the decade-spanning chaos and aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War, Spring River follows a man, Zhang Zhongliang (Tao Jin), and a woman, Sufen (Bai Yang), who meet and marry in the early years of the conflict. The couple is separated when Zhang travels inland to join the resistance against the Japanese invaders, finally going to seek work in the free city of Chongqing, where he becomes the lover of a wealthy debutante. When, after the war, Sufen goes to work for her husband's lover, loyalties of heart and class are tested — and ultimately succumb. An expansive, go-for-broke melodrama that poignantly depicts the painful moral decisions forced upon ordinary people by war, poverty and suffering, Spring River retains a remarkable sense of time and place amidst all the heightened emotions and impossible predicaments.

The Spring River Flows East Parts I and II screen together as a double bill.