In Taiwan, Xiao-kang, a young man in his early 20s, lives with his parents in near silence. He is plagued by severe neck pain. His father is bedeviled by water first leaking into his ... See full summary »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Tien Miao ...
Father
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...
Mother (as Hsiao-Ling Lu)
...
Director (as Anne Hui)
...
Girl
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Anonymous Man
Shiao-Lin Lu ...
Mother's lover (as Long Chang)
...
Girl in Hotel
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Storyline

In Taiwan, Xiao-kang, a young man in his early 20s, lives with his parents in near silence. He is plagued by severe neck pain. His father is bedeviled by water first leaking into his bedroom and then flooding the apartment; rain is incessant. Xiao-kang's mother is overcome by sexual longing for her son, sometimes making seemingly incestuous overtures. They try virtually every intervention for Xiao-kang's neck: Western medicine, a chiropractor, acupuncture, an herbal doctor, and a faith healer, Master Liu. Are the family's silent dynamics and Xiao-kang's neck pain connected? And what about the body floating in the Tamsui River: is everything dead? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Drama | Romance

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Release Date:

7 August 1997 (Taiwan)  »

Also Known As:

The River  »

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1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The director of the movie in which Xiao-Keng floats in the river is played by real-life Hong Kong director Ann Hui. See more »

Quotes

Girl: Hsiao-kang, I want to go pee. Could you turn off the lights?
[Hsiao-kang turns off the lights]
Girl: The curtains, too.
See more »

Connections

Follows Vive L'Amour (1994) See more »

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User Reviews

Postmodernity is a pain in the neck
26 September 1999 | by (los angeles) – See all my reviews

Xiao-kang (Kang-sheng Lee) is a teenage rube who gets hornswoggled into doing the dead man's float in a polluted river so a no-budget filmmaker can get her shot. The next day, a pain in his neck appears, and his father (Tien Miao) has every solution for it except the obvious one--a doctor. The curious web that connects Xiao-kang, whose pain grows from the noisome to the suicide-inducing, his dad, a divorcee with a penchant for male hustlers, and the kid's proper, upscale girlfriend (Shiang-chyi Chen), couldn't be guessed at by any movie you've ever seen or any novel you've ever read. And if the words "David Cronenberg" popped into your mind when Xiao-kang's neck started metastasizing, you're wrong again.

The writer-director Tsai Ming-liang has two primary interests in THE RIVER: water and alienated architecture. If you wanted to be really crude about it, you could say that on today's world-cinema landscape Wong Kar-Wai is a new Godard, and Tsai Ming-liang is a new Antonioni. He knows how to make a colloquy of old Taiwanese men at McDonald's look like Heywood Floyd's walk through the space station in 2001; and for a better picture of bottom-drawer loneliness you'd have to go back to Travis Bickle. But he has two secondary interests, too--bodies (Dad's pot-bellied but still lithe one, the son's with his ever-tilting neck) and organic human processes (peeing, washing, masturbating, frying stuff in a wok). The emphasis on forlorn public spaces justified the movie's presence in an absurdly titled recent L.A. retrospective called "Ultra Modern Loneliness," but if you think Ming-liang is an alienated King of Pain, you're still wide of the mark. He uses these quintessentially bodily moments to make hyperpoetic still lifes that evoke the paintings of Eric Fischl. Every scene is like a metaphor that doesn't point at anything but itself.

If you had to characterize Tsai Ming-liang's voice here, it would be like the sound of passing traffic heard from an apartment window. He so withdraws from the indicating and commentary that passes as ninety-nine percent of world moviemaking that the audience gets freaky nervous. But as much as any director that's emerged since David Lynch, he's a true-blue original--he don't owe nothing to nobody. Perhaps the most gorgeous aspect of THE RIVER is Ming-liang's focus on the cinematic potential of human touch, which fascinates him even more profoundly than it did Cassavetes or Pialat. The way a human touch can shade from pain-giving to pleasure, or vice versa, leads to the shattering climax of THE RIVER's seeming non-story--a narrative arc as unfettered, as personal and intuitive, as any in contemporary movies.


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