Mei you hang biao de he liu (River Without Buoys) (1984)





Director:     Tian-Ming Wu.

Starring:     Li Wei (Pan Laowu),  Song Baosen (Youg),  Tao Yiling (Wu Aihua) ,  Chen Huifen (young girl),  Hu Ronghua (Shi Gu),  Tang Qingming (Zhao Liang),  Li shulan (Gai Xiu),  Yu Wenzhong (Xu Minghe),  Lv Yukun (Lao Weitou),  Pan Gong (Secretarry Chen),  Cheln Senlin (Li Jiadong),  Jlin Fuli (Director of women),  Guizhi Mumu (Wang),  Xiao Yue (Director Shen),  Ma Huiying (seller),  Xu Man (servant).

 during the Cultural Revolution, timber rafters try to rescue a former District Director from a labor camp



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

We live beside the river and the story happened on the river.  An older man named Pan Laowu and his crew floats downstream on the down the Xiao River in Hunan, China during the period of the brutal Cultural Revolution.  The rafter is rather large.  The river is very slow, so the speed of the raft is also very slow.  A young ,big, strong fellow named Shi Gu takes objection the Pan Laowu singing.  He tells him to stop it.  But Pan Laowu just increases the volume on his singing.  Shi Gu gets so mad that the throws a knife at the feet of Pan Laowu.  The older man gets angry and challenges Shi Gu to a fight.  As the big guy comes at the much smaller man, Pan Laowu ducks down and to the side and Shi Gu falls into the river.  Later Pan Laowu sees Shi Gu wilth a pair of bracelets for some woman.  He tells Shi Gu not to worry over any woman.  Shi Gu ignores his advice.  Pan Laowu takes exception to this and starts telling the two crew members his own love story.

It was the spring of 1931.  He laid up his raft at Shunghe jie for awhile.  A pretty, young woman asks him if it's okay if she can wash her clothes from the raft.  He lets her wash her clothes.  The next day she comes back for her pounding stick. Pan Laowu teases her a bit and they talk.  Her name is Wu Aihua, a good girl.  Next spring he stopped at the same place.  This time Wu Aihua sees him washing his own clothes from the raft.  She comes over and washes his shirt for him.   He stayed tied up at the town for quite a few days.  When he leaves, she tells him that he had better send a matchmaker to her home soon.  She adds that she will wait for his return. 

But before Pan Laowu could return to her, he lost his raft in a flood and went into debt.  There was no way he could marry Wu Aihua. 

That night Pan Laowu gets drunk and starts having hallucinations.  Instead of seeing Shi Gu, he sees Li Jiadon, who Pan Laowu calls a merciless jerk.  He asks this Li Jiadon, why did he say that he was a capitalist.  Because of that, he really put Pan Laowu in a dreadful situation.  He also shouts that the merciless jerk kidnaps people.  Shi Gu and the other crewman Zhaou Lian tie up the drunken captain to the raft to keep him quiet. 

Shi Gu thinks about his girlfriend, Gai Xiu.  One days she was dragged away by two men. 

Zhaou Lian tells Pan Laowu to get up.  Shi Gu went to the bank in town and hasn't returned for a night.  He may kill someone.  They go onto the land looking for their crewmate.  Zhaou Lian says that Gai Xiu was forced into marriage and it all has something to do with Li Jiadong.  Li played the role of matchmaker for the illegal match.  The young man is Li's nephew. 

A woman speaks with Gai Xiu.  She tells him that man that she really loves was the leader of a rebellion and that's not good.  Gai Xiu replies that it is merely lip-service to say that one is free to chose one's life partner in the new society, if one can be kidnapped.  She adds that Shi Gu and she are already engaged.  The woman counters with the claim that her fellow was caught profiting off the country's wood and if he came back to the town he would certainly be punished for sure. 

Zhaou Lian  tells Pan Laowu that Shi Gu and Gai Xiu could be in or around the local commune.  The two men run into a woman worker on the commune.  She definitely knows Gai Xiu.  The girl is quite the spitfire.  She resisted sex with her husband for two months.  With the female workers are some men sleeping in a tent.  Pan Laowu and Zhaou Lian reclgnize that one of the men is Shi Gu and the other is the District Director, Xu Minghe.  The two men wonder what the director is doing here.  The woman workers says that he was sent here because he was accused of being a capitalist. He was sent to work in their commune last year.  He was stomping on the thresher when he fell into the machine.  He bled a great deal.  The two men decide to have Shi Gu carry the director back to the raft.  Shi Gu gladly performs this task. 

After the men leave the women worry about their not having raised any objections to the men just taking the director away like that.  The informal leader of the group says that she will take the responsibility no matter what happens.  She tells the other women that they will tell the big shots that the director drowned in the river. 

The rafters go down river and then anchor the raft.  Shi Gu carries the director to a small house.  Everyone seems to know and admire the director.  The owner of the house is very happy to help the director.  The rafters leave the director with the home owner.  The owner tells Pan Laowu that he is through anyway.  He was accused of abolishing the "tail" of socialism. 

Pan Laowu start fighting with Shi Gu over matches and the latter throws the last remaining matches into the river.  They start physically fighting, but stop when they see Gai Xiu up on a hill on the shore.  Shi Gu and Gai Xiu shout to each other.  Shi Gu jumps into the water and swims to shore, while Gai Xiu runs town the hill to the shore.  They hug.  He then picks her up and puts her on the raft. She tells the men that she escaped.  Two men on the shore ask the rafters if they have seen a woman in the area.  Pan Laowu lies and says yes they have and she went that away, indicating along the land above the shore.  Shi Gu finally gets to give her the bracelets he once promised her. 

The next morning Gai Xiu is going to leave the raft. She will hide with her relative in the local town.  But Pan Laowu tells her that they will find her in this small town.  He tells her to stay on the raft and keep moving downstream with them.  Gai Xiu is suddenly all smiles and gladly returns to the raft. 

Gao Xiu washes clothes for the three men. Pan Laowu enjoys seeing her together with Shi Gu. When it is time to cook there are no matches. So Shi Gu dives into the river and swims to a fire on the land to get fire. The little family has a little feast. Pan Laowu toasts to the couple loving each other forever and for Director Wu to be healthy forever.

Pan Laowu and Zhaou Lian will go to Shuanghe Street in Shunghe jie to buy supplies. This is the same down of Pan Laowuís one time girlfriend. He talks about the time he saw her performing a play on stage for the people. Then the next time he saw her was on the street during a parade. She was with a little boy who he assumed was her son. He felt happy for her that she was happy.

They go into a shop to buy supplies. Matches have not been available for half a year at the time of the production strike. But the shopkeeper has something else for them But he sells Pan Laowu something like flint to start fires. Pan Laowu makes a parting remark about life being good and this gets the shopkeeper a little bothered. The shopkeeper tells him that one cannot speak the truth in recent years and he warns him to be careful or he will be arrested for promoting class warfare.

Pan Laowu buys some ginseng to help cure Director Wu. Then they stop for some lunch, but he finds out he canít buy any wine at the place. It has been banned. The proprietor asks didnít he hear the message on the loud speaker? A spokesman tells everyone over the loud speaker system that the countyís Revolutionary Committee has brought the town a revolutionary play. A woman comes by to beg for some soup from Pan Laowu. He suddenly realizes that it is Wu Aihua. He asks her to sit down and gives her a large bowl of noodles to eat. Her eyes fill with tears and she wonít eat the noodles. Pan Laowu is upset too and has to wipe his eyes of his tears. She gives him a very sad look of betrayal and leaves.

Pan Laowu follows her down to the river. He explains that he lost his raft and fell in debt. He says he thought he was doing it for her welfare. Then he apologizes to her. Wu Aihua says that her husband and son both died. Now she has a lot of health problems and the work team only sees her as a burden. He gives her some money and she starts crying.

Zhaou Lian and Wu Aihua starts to leave. Pan Laowu stops her to ask her if she could deliver some ginseng to Director Wu? She agrees. He tells her he will be back on his return journey.

On the raft some members of the revolutionary committee stop to make sure that Pan Laowu and Zhaou Lian go watch the revolutionary play. The two men donít want to see the play, so the enforcers say they will check the raft for other passengers. So all of a sudden, the three men on the raft decide to go to the play. (A little later Pan Laowu sneaks away.)

Wu Aihua has been caught with ginseng. Everyone knows she has no money for ginseng, so she is accused of being a thief. She screams that the ginseng is to save someoneís life, but the arrogant Cultural Revolution enforcers, including Secretary Chen, donít care.

At the play Director Li Jiadong is invited to say something. (By this time Zhaou Lian has also sneaked away, leaving only Shi Gu.) A thunderstorm rains out the out-door event. Shi Gu somehow finds out about the ginseng and who currently has it. He roughs up the guy who has the ginseng in order to get the ginseng back. Pan Laowu gives the ginseng back to Wu Aihua.

The men have to hurriedly get the raft out on the river as they are being chased. Someone fires a rifle. And now the river turns violent. There is a great danger that the raft will be destroyed. The wind takes the tent. Gai Xiu grabs one of the tent ropes to prevent the tent from blowing away, but the wind just drags the Gai Xiu across the raft. But then the raft crashes into a big tree in the river and the raft is destroyed. The survivors keep yelling for Pan Laowu, but there is no response. Zhaou Lian wonders what happened to Pan Laowu. But then he holds out the hope that he must be ahead of them on the river. They keep calling for him as they walk.

Pan Laowu is able to save his raft.


Good movie.  My wife said it was a little slow in the beginning.  And I have to agree.  It is about as slow as the raft on which Pan Laowu floats down the slow river.  But I was a little entranced with what it might be like to live and work just floating down a river on a raft.  There are two loves stories in the film, only one of which has an unhappy ending.  The movie is about a disparate, fighting group of people coming together against the adversities created by China's Cultural Revolution to create a sort of family out of concern for each other.  You can also see how the regular people were effected by the idiocies (liked force labor camps) of the Cultural Revolution.  The whole atmosphere feels poisoned by the Cultural Revolution.  (Oh, the translation to English is very poor, but you can still get the gist of the idea.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)