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The River (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on December 26, 2011

This is the Tsai film that has gone the longest between my first and second viewings.  Although several key scenes have lingered in my memory, for some reason over the years I’ve downgraded it to “2nd tier Tsai”.  I think that’s a good place for it, bearing in mind that 2nd tier Tsai is still really, really good.  It builds on Vive L’Amour and sets up more of his signature elements — water, illness, isolation, urban decay.  The only real problem with it is that there a few scenes that don’t add anything.  They’re variations on ideas that have already been sufficiently expressed.  However, the bulk of the film is compelling despite the typical snail’s pace.  Kang-sheng Lee’s chronic sore neck (which I’m sure we’re meant to infer is caused by submerging himself in the polluted river) is subtly horrifying, one of the most haunting images of pain I’ve seen.  Although I think Tsai did better at expressing communication breakdown in other films, the theme is put across strongly, culminating in that deeply disturbing climax.  If it doesn’t all quite come together perfectly, it’s nonetheless a film that resonates with me.  Rating: Very Good


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