The River

  • 1997
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

It's fitting that cinema's most eloquent poet of loneliness should also be its most reticent. Few words are spoken in the films of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, yet they speak volumes about alienation, isolation and the desperate, rarely successful search for intimacy in contemporary Taipei. This 1997 film — the closest Tsai has come so far to...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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It's fitting that cinema's most eloquent poet of loneliness should also be its most reticent. Few words are spoken in the films of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, yet they speak volumes about alienation, isolation and the desperate, rarely successful search for intimacy in contemporary Taipei. This 1997 film — the closest Tsai has come so far to a masterpiece — could be considered the third part of a quartet that includes REBELS OF THE NEON GOD (1992), VIVE L'AMOUR (1994) and THE HOLE (1998); each stars Lee Kang-sheng as a young man named Xiao-kang, and all feature lonely people linked — and divided — by their sterile living spaces. Also typically of Tsai's films, it resists telling a story in any conventional sense. The main narrative thread begins when Xiao-kang agrees to play the part of a corpse floating face down in the polluted Tanshui River for a film that's being shot in Taipei. Xiao-kang is only in the river for a few moments, but that's long enough for the dirty water to have a serious effect on his health; not long after, Xiao-kang develops a debilitating spasm in his neck. His father (Miao Tien) insists he see a doctor and his mother (Lu Hsiao-ling) takes him to an acupuncturist, but nothing seems to help. As the pain drives Xiao-kang to the brink of madness, father and son turn to a spiritual healer, who tells Xiao-kang that his body has become possessed by a foreign element. Scenes of Xiao-kang's search for a cure are alternated with carefully drawn portraits of his parents' lives. His mother is a sad, lonely woman who works as an elevator operator and puts up with a nasty lover in return for precious little affection. Xiao-kang's father, a retiree, contends with a leaky ceiling by day (water remains a constant and ambiguous motif throughout; it both cleanses and pollutes) and spends his evenings cruising gay bath houses. Little happens by way of action — it's what doesn't occur between these characters that's crucial — father, mother and son are so estranged that we're well into the film before we even realize they're related. Despite the inaction, the film culminates in a scene some viewers will no doubt find shocking. In retrospect, however, it's little more than the sorry, inevitable outcome of two lonely people reduced to searching for love in all the wrong places.

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  • Released: 1997
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: It's fitting that cinema's most eloquent poet of loneliness should also be its most reticent. Few words are spoken in the films of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, yet they speak volumes about alienation, isolation and the desperate, rarely successful s… (more)

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