A film by Shujun Wei

Cast : Yilong ZHU, Chloe MAAYAN, Tianlai HOU, Linkai TONG

2023 / Crime. drama. thriller / Chine / Color / status : completed / Mandarin / Feature Documentary / International catalogue

1990s, Banpo Town, rural China. A woman’s body is found by the river. Ma Zhe, Chief of the Criminal Police, heads up the murder investigation that leads to an obvious arrest. His superiors hurry to congratulate him, but several clues push Ma Zhe to delve deeper into the hidden behaviour of his fellow citizens.



“An enigmatic, progressively more engrossing noir directed by Wei Shujun, structurally inventive, if not downright format-twisting. Feels like it’s coming straight at the audience from the time in question – a post-Mao, mid-Deng Xiaoping reforms Southern China. While ostensibly a noir, it is a reminder of the alternative narrative perspectives and cinematic sophistication that have moved [Chinese] cinema forward in the past. This nimble, opaque work could have sat well in Cannes Competition. The cinematography is genuinely star-making.”


“A film noir that’s so vintage it comes wrapped in crackling celluloid and old cassette tapes. Written and directed by Wei Shujun, the movie is a puzzle-like homage to the noir genre itself, with echoes of Jean-Pierre Melville, Chinatown and Memories of Murder. Portraying Chinese society before the recent economic boom and in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests, at a time when citizens lead repressed lives of quiet desperation. Wei and co-writer Chunlei Kang adapted their script from a novel by Yu Hua, filling the film’s early scenes with bits of observant social dramedy. Shot by the talented Chengma Zhiyuan (Fires on the Plain) in a vintage style that’s purposely murky and tinged with various shades of mud, the film’s aesthetic echoes its somewhat opaque plotting. Like the investigation itself, the meaning of Only the River Flows gradually finds its focus as the story progresses, leaving the viewer staring into the same abyss the detective does — an abyss that, as in any respectable film noir, stares back at him.”

The Hollywood Reporter


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