The River (He liu) (1997)
Critic Reviews for The River (He liu)
The River is difficult and unpleasant at times, but as a somber metaphor for contaminated lives, it's masterful.
Tsai is so adept at pacing and mood, and so good at capturing a sense of yearning, that his film draws us in despite its unusually long takes and sparse cutting.
The result is a stunning surreal film that remains unexplored in all the mysteries it holds, just like the river that flows in the city.
Too murky and long to swim in.
a painfully incisive portrait of the contemporary human condition
Audience Reviews for The River (He liu)
In his third film, Tsai moves his focus to the nuclear family and creates his most depressing work to date - perhaps a bit too depressing for its own sake -, as it follows a group of characters whose murky lives flow like a river through isolation and lack of communication in modern Taipei.
Tsai Ming-Liang seems to have a preoccupation with urban disconnect. While The River appears early on to be focusing on generational differences and how we decay with age, he reveals that the two characters who would embody the disparate elements of this idea are directly related (literally), signaling that Tsai is instead looking once again at said urban disconnect to captivating results. A young, gorgeous Hsiao-Kang runs into a girl he hasn't seen in two years and is invited to visit a film set where she is working. He's asked to play a dead body in the film, floating in polluted water for a minute or two. The pair later have sex, sex that is juxtaposed with the "intimacy" of an older couple who seem to be miserable together. Their lives are grim. The father cleans, sits alone in McDonald's (talk about decay), and regularly frequents bathhouses for cheap sexual gratification from reluctant male workers. The mother watches porn alone and is having an unfulfilling affair with someone in that industry. They sleep in separate rooms. The roof starts leaking dirty water. Hsiao-Kang is shown to be their son and starts dealing with horrible neck pain immediately after his day on set. They're all miserable and everything goes downhill from there. Tsai's direction is deliberate, with static shots and very long takes, focusing on rundown buildings, rain, leakage, and urban decay. Thematically, it resembles an Antonioni film in its focus on modern disconnect and existential sickness from physical and spiritual pollution, these ideas similarly crammed into every frame leaving plenty for audience members to ruminate on. It ends perfectly, doubling down on its bleak nature in a way that is bold without being gratuitous, a near perfect addition to what is likely a brilliant body of work from an essential director.
some don't like tsai's pacing but i have found him mesmerizing and this is certainly no exception. and while many considered it bleak, i saw it more as a black comedy. i'm watching tsai's films in order which isn't strictly necessary i guess but i do believe there is an overarching narrative and this is an important piece of the puzzle. to be continued...
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