Tsai Ming-Liang's The River, the Taiwanese master's third feature, opens with a chance encounter between Xiao-Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng) and an old friend (Chen Shiang-Chyi), an unexpected meeting that sets this bleak and ultimately disturbing film on its course. Persuaded to accompany his friend to a film set where she works as a production assistant, Xiao-Kang is recruited by the director to play a corpse floating in a polluted river. After the shoot, Xiao-Kang struggles to wash the river's stench off -- and begins to feel a twinge in his neck. Meanwhile, the movie shifts its attention to two other people, a middle-aged woman (Lu Hsiao-Ling) working as an elevator operator in a restaurant, and a man (Miao Tien) who alternates his time at McDonald's and a gay bathhouse. It's eventually revealed that the two are Xiao-Kang's parents, and that the three of them live together in a Taipei apartment building that's as much in need of repair as their relationship. As Xiao-Kang's neck pain lingers, the parents grow increasingly concerned and help him seek relief in both science and superstition, to no avail. A trip to a provincial healer becomes the last resort for the ailing Xiao-Kang and occasions a devastating twist that brings the movie to an unsettling close. ~ Elbert Ventura, Rovi

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