So many of the film's apparent flaws are, 20 yrs later, Tsai's stylistic strengths, still here being tested; not yet as effective as they will be. More important is the way the oblique story, mood, themes, all seep in relentlessly anyway, like his water. Why does Pen-Jung Liao's cinematography never get mentioned the way, say, Chris Doyle's does? It's perfect. Memory prompt: LKS's Beckett-worthy agonized contortions.
This was a very hard film for me to watch, and my rating might be a little high, BUT I cannot deny that this film has been in my head for days, and that, while it IS depressing, it is also absolutely fascinating. I guess I just wish why I knew Hsaio Kang went to the Sauna toward the end...
The bleakest of Tsai's films, The River is a weird parable that revels in its structural incompleteness. Alienation and despair, typical elements in Tsai's work, are here bathed in a sense of nihilism and dread that doesn't accept redeeming facets: this is a film that feels sick and sickening. The sense of humor is, as usual, point blank.