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The River (1997)

He liu (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 7 August 1997 (Taiwan)
1:21 | Trailer
A young man develops severe neck pain after swimming in a polluted river; his dysfunctional parents are unable to provide any relief for him or themselves.


Ming-liang Tsai
6 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
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 Shiao-Lin Lu ... Mother's lover (as Long Chang)
Kuei-Mei Yang ... Girl in Hotel


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>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

7 August 1997 (Taiwan) See more »

Also Known As:

The River See more »

Filming Locations:

Taipei City, Taiwan

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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 »


Follows Rebels of the Neon God (1992) See more »

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User Reviews

Bold, subdued revealing tale of a Taiwan family with dark elements, cinematically and content-wise. NFE (not for everyone)
3 November 2001 | by ruby_fffSee all my reviews

After the film, my immediate reaction was it felt like the other extreme of "American Beauty," call it "Taipei Beauty". It's about a dysfunctional family, but in a much quieter, subdued way. It's dark, rather Kafka-est, and at times reminds me of Jim Jarmusch's black and white films. This film is in color, yet the mood and tone somehow felt sparing and heartlessly detached. There's not a whole lot of dialog. Very often we have long shots/scenes - and I mean both in the sense of camera held duration and reach of distance. Director Tsai Ming-liang definitely is not shy at giving us the real-time experience: the stillness of waiting, the (long) pause of a character just standing there, sitting there motionless, alone in the dark in dim lighting, or just going through the routine of munching food. Mind you, it may seem like nothing's going on, but the underlying emotion or turmoil within the character is silently felt. He even repeats (similar) scenes - it has a French film flavor: the actions/motions the characters go through seem to come so naturally, like ordinary daily life routines.

Ambient sound effects play an effective role in "The River," and they're constantly there, aptly applied complementing the scenes instead of musical tracks. Besides the two critical boldly captured intimate scenes of the son, the other intimate scene of the father, another of the mother, are all presented in a transitional flow, unobtrusively natural way. Sensitive portrayals all round - the demonstration of utter unawareness of each other, as a family unit or floating bodies in the circle they're in, is complete. Lee Kang-sheng (apparently a regular in director Tsai's films), playing Xiao-kang the son with the murderous neck pain, was so unbelievably real - so comfortably natural in every scene and situation.

I thought of Jacques Rivette's 1990 "La Belle Noiseuse" which I recently viewed, where Emmanuelle Béart told Michel Piccoli a riddle: "What is something that travels on a hollow track, never sleeps, never goes back?" "It's a river, a stream." It squarely describes this Taipei family of three: the father, the mother, and the son, each are quite lonely by him/herself, leading a hollow existence. You might say 'fate' has a hand in the flow of events: if the son did not casually happen to meet his old girlfriend at the escalators of the mall, leading to his 'extra' actor role of a floating corpse in a movie shoot, when his body being soaked in the river wetness, followed by his riding the scooter with his neck exposed to the breezy wind, hence the chill giving rise to the agonizing neck pain unable to get rid of… As a river has converging tributaries joining its course, we see the father's simultaneous harassing frustration with the non-stop ceiling water leaks in his bedroom - quite a pouring river whenever it rains, plus his unspoken secret; we also get to see the mother's lonely occupation and preoccupation. Like any river, there are unexpected rapids, and the family of three copes. Yes, in Tsai Ming-liang's "The River," the events just happen, and there is no going back - life goes on a-flowing.

There are two other films titled "The River." Jean Renoir's 1951 "The River," a beautiful sensitive film shot in Indian, about three teenage girls growing up in Bengal; Mark Rydell's 1984 "The River" with Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek in a Hollywood 'disaster' save-the-family-farm movie. Tsai's 1997 "The River" may be hard medicine, yet beyond the bitterness, a flavorful taste shall emerge. It's more than thought provoking. To some, I agree, this tastes like a masterpiece.

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