IMDb > The River (1997)
He liu
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The River (1997) More at IMDbPro »He liu (original title)

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The River -- US Home Video Trailer from Wellspring


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7.4/10   1,802 votes »
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Release Date:
7 August 1997 (Taiwan) See more »
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... See more » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
5 wins & 6 nominations See more »
User Reviews:
Disturbing depiction of emotional disconnect See more (21 total) »


  (in credits order) (complete, awaiting verification)
Tien Miao ... Father

Kang-sheng Lee ... Hsiao-Kang
Yi-Ching Lu ... Mother (as Hsiao-Ling Lu)

Ann Hui ... Director (as Anne Hui)
Shiang-chyi Chen ... Girl
Chao-jung Chen ... Anonymous Man
Shiao-Lin Lu ... Mother's lover (as Long Chang)
Kuei-Mei Yang ... Girl in Hotel

Directed by
Ming-liang Tsai 
Writing credits
(in alphabetical order)
Ming-liang Tsai 
Yi-chun Tsai 
Pi-ying Yang 

Produced by
Shun-Ching Chiu .... producer
Hu-pin Chung .... executive producer
Li-Kong Hsu .... producer
Shih-Yuan Lin .... line producer
Shih-Fang Wang .... associate producer
Cinematography by
Pen-Jung Liao 
Film Editing by
Sheng-Chang Chen 
Chen-Ching Lei 
Production Design by
Tony Lan 
Art Direction by
Pao-Lin Lee 
Set Decoration by
Nien-Chiu Cheng 
Mu-Shan Kuo 
Costume Design by
Yu Wang 
Makeup Department
Zenia Chou .... hair stylist
Zenia Chou .... makeup artist
Pei-Wen Yen .... additional hair stylist
Pei-Wen Yen .... additional makeup artist
Production Management
Chih-ming Huang .... production manager
Hui-Chin Lin .... production manager
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Pei-Chun Chen .... assistant director
Ming-tai Wang .... assistant director
Sound Department
Din-I Hu .... foley artist
Yuan-Feng Tsao .... foley artist
Ching-an Yang .... production sound mixer
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Marie Chao .... wardrobe mistress
Other crew
San-Ling Chang .... overseas coordinator
Helen Dei .... script supervisor
Yi-Mei Luo .... overseas coordinator


Additional Details

Also Known As:
"He liu" - Taiwan (original title)
See more »
115 min | Germany:116 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.85 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Filming Locations:

Did You Know?

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 »
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 »
Movie Connections:


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20 out of 22 people found the following review useful.
Disturbing depiction of emotional disconnect, 14 October 2002
Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.

In The River (1997) by Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang, Xiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng), meets a young woman (Chen Shiang-chyi) on an escalator in a downtown Taipei mall. The woman introduces him to a film director (Ann Hui) who recruits him to play a corpse floating down a polluted river. Shortly afterward, Xiao-kang mysteriously experiences severe neck pain. Although he receives medical, chiropractic, and acupuncture treatment, his condition worsens and he spends most of the film groaning in pain and holding his neck. As in Todd Haynes' Safe (1995), another film about illness that worsens despite treatment, it remains uncertain whether the cause is physical or psychological.

There have been many films about the failure of modern society to provide a coherent set of values for people, particularly Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, and Michael Haneke's Code Unknown, but none convey the feeling of emotional deadness and isolation more effectively than The River. It is so alienating in its lethargic pace that it makes Andrei Tarkovsky look like Michael Bay. With no close-ups, no soundtrack other than environmental noises, minimal dialogue and plot, and long takes that focus on objects for minutes at a time, the film challenges us to stay tuned in.

Relationships in The River are cold and impersonal, and Xiao-kang's family is about as profoundly isolated as can be imagined. All we see in the beginning are three individuals going their separate ways, performing most of life's routine chores exclusively by themselves. It is well into the film until we even know they are a family unit. They never speak to each other, sleep or eat together. The father (Miao Tien) is a retired, dumpy-looking man who frequents the Gay saunas. Xiao-kang's mother (Lu Hsiao-ling) is an elevator operator who watches pornographic videos that she obtains from her secret lover, a seller of such material. Xiao himself has a brief affair with the young woman he met at the beginning of the film.

There is no emotion in the film. Only the brief, anonymous sexual encounters provide any form of intensity. All of these scenes, however, are shot almost entirely in the dark with only little snippets of light showing parts of trembling bodies. This technique creates a sensual but rather unnerving and distancing experience. Water is a prevalent thread throughout the film -- in the polluted river, the leaking ceiling of the father's bedroom which ultimately floods the apartment; rain showers, bathing showers and baths at the sauna. It plays a central symbolic role, perhaps as a metaphor for the flow of life. As Jonathan Rosenbaum concludes: "Sex and plumbing, seduction and infection, a river and a spray of steam and a torrent of rain are all part of the same inexorable flow."

The River says a great deal about people thrown together in big cities, living in close proximity, and yet emotionally and psychologically distant. They live an existence surrounded by silence, unwilling or unable to reach out to each other, handling problems with inaction and patchwork solutions. I found The River to be a very unsettling experience, unpleasant to watch but very powerful in its dark message. In a shocking scene towards the end of the film, father and son meet in a sauna at a gay bathhouse but fail to recognize each other. In this tender but disturbing depiction of emotional disconnect, the film is succinctly summarized.

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