On A River Without Navigation Marks (1984)

Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - China  |  
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Melodramatic and culturally hermetic, this complex story is about three men who raft up and down a river, picking up business through trade and transport and fishing, wherever they can. Life is that much more difficult because the Cultural Revolution is in full swing and so is instability. Pan Laowu (Li Wei) is the oldest and wisest of the three and tries to help his friend Shi Gu (Hu Ronghua) who is upset about his hard life and prolonged absences from the woman he loves. Pan's background and relationship to Shi Gu unfolds in a series of flashbacks. Zhao Liang (Tang Minqin) is saving money for his daughter's wedding and completes the trio. The three suffer one misfortune after another, and at one stop, they discover that a good-hearted district director has been persecuted by the Red Guards and is now in jail. The three friends rescue him from captivity, load him on their raft, and get him to safety downriver. Even Zhao sacrifices his savings to buy medicine for the ailing director. The three continue on with their work until floods inundate the region and Pan Laowu takes a great risk to help two stranded lovers -- with tragic consequences. Athough this melodrama is more sophisticated than the worst of China's propaganda films, it is still too foreign for most non-Chinese viewers who would have an uphill battle in suspending disbelief.

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Keywords

business, friendship, man, on-the-road, poverty, revolution, wedding