Ode to the Spring review – Chinese exploration of pandemic ground zero in Wuhan

This interminable anthology film about the pandemic feels like being force-fed lectures on altruism, family responsibility, self-sacrifice and neighbourly forbearance by the Chinese government (which produced it). Set almost entirely in Wuhan – Covid ground zero – it’s handsomely photographed, making the emptied-out city look drowned and dystopian. But its five mawkish segments contain hardly any worthwhile drama and the whole comes over as more of a public information film than anything else.

First up in its parade of paragons is Shanghai banker Nanfeng (Fang Yin), who has come to Wuhan to propose to ex-girlfriend Xiaoyu (Dongyu Zhou). But she is in isolation in hospital, so he promises to look after her mother who is in intensive care across the city. In the second story, another government gold star goes to two migrant deliverymen who help a child ferry her sick grandma to hospital. Meanwhile, government official Wang (Jingchun Wang) has to brush up on his diplomacy when tower-block dweller Xiaomai (The Wandering Earth’s Jingmai Zhao) irks the neighbours with her piano-playing. Back on the wards, two exhausted medical staff struggle to hold their family together as they try to save a colleague’s life. And, across town, apartment-bound youngster Le Le (Hangcheng Zhang) is bouncing off the walls, possibly due to the all-instant noodle diet his dad is feeding him.

This last strand at least has a little humour and spark to it, even if it winds up in pat homilies to Nezha, a protection deity of Chinese folklore. Elsewhere, the film falls prey to the worst impulses of the urban-interconnection film, all smeary platitudes instead of focused drama. It’s a kind of Covid-themed Crash, in which no personal tragedy cannot be treated with the infusion of some milkily sentimental ballad on the soundtrack. You’d never know it was credited to five different directors, so anodyne is the prevailing aesthetic (unlike the recent Battle at Lake Changjin, whose three directors clearly stood out). The addiction of China’s state film bodies to this sort of didactic bilge is the real issue here.

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