The River | Chicago Reader

The River

115 minutes 1997

In Rebels of the Neon God (1992) and Vive l'Amour (1994), Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang followed Lee Kang-sheng, a young, nonprofessional actor, through the streets of Taipei. A seductive misfit, an alienated urban dweller struggling with loneliness and sexual identity, Lee is reunited in this 1997 feature with his fictional family from the first film. The mother (Lu Hsiao-ling) works as an elevator operator and seeks solace and affection in a trite affair with a porn-video salesman; the father (Miao Tien, a former kung fu actor), now retired, cruises Taipei's fast-food restaurants and bathhouses for young male bodies; and Lee, against his better judgment, agrees to play a corpse floating in a dirty river to help a commercial film director (Ann Hui). As always in Tsai's films, water means trouble, excess, passion: as soon as Lee dips into the river he experiences excruciating pain in his neck and shoulders, which traditional Chinese medicine is powerless to cure. Meanwhile a leaky faucet wreaks havoc in the father's bedroom, but since the members of the family barely talk to one another, nothing is done about it until the dark, moving, unexpected climax. Filmed in a single cut, with the minimal sounds of breathing and rustling paper, this scene is one of the most beautiful, disturbing, yet tender produced by contemporary Taiwanese cinema. A quiet masterpiece. In Mandarin with subtitles.

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