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The River Review

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Lee is a wastrel, his father hangs around gay saunas and his mother lives for fleeting moments of passion with a lover who pirates porn videos. Hardly a word is spoken as the family shuffles around its cramped apartment. That is, until Lee contracts a mysterious neck ailment and he and his father go on faith healing journey neither will ever forget

★★★★

Having shared the Golden Lion at Venice for Vive L'Amour, Tsai Ming-liang took the Silver Bear at Berlin for this concluding part of a celluloid trilogy that he began back in 1992 with Rebels Of The Neon Gods.

Lee Xiao-Kang (Lee) and his parents put in a brief appearance in Rebels, but since then they have descended into terminal dysfunction. Lee is a wastrel, his father (Miao) hangs around gay saunas and his mother (Lu) is a lift operator who lives for fleeting moments of passion with a lover who pirates porn videos. Hardly a word is spoken as the family shuffles around its cramped apartment. That is, until Lee contracts a mysterious neck ailment after playing a corpse floating down the Tanshui River for location-shooting Hong Kong director, Ann Hui. No amount of ancient wisdom, physical therapy or herbal unctions can cure him, and so father and son set off to consult a distant faith healer - a trip that neither of them will ever forget.

Water is so often portrayed onscreen as a source of life and a force for good. But here, director Tsai shows a polluted river flowing through Taipei brings nothing but corruption and pain. Elsewhere, a drip that turns into a deluge threatens to submerge the father's bedroom, while even the cleansing steam of the saunas serves as a smokescreen for guilt-ridden sex.

Tsai's leisurely style, with its long takes and lingering pauses, stands in stark contrast to the fluidity of Taiwanese cinema's other man of the moment, Ang Lee. Yet the absence of incidental music and the economy of dialogue forces you to confront the troubled world of this alienated trio. And yet nothing quite prepares you for the incidence of gay incest that, for all its inevitability, is up there among 90s cinema's most jaw-dropping moments.

Tsai effectively shows a polluted river flowing through Taipei brings nothing but corruption and pain

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