A River Runs Through It (2024)

Exceeds Expectations.

Generally, if there is one genre that has been reused too many times to the point that nobody really watches them anymore, Youth dramas take one of the top spots. A River Runs Through It is no different. Dealing with the regular issues of teenagers growing up and their relationship with their parents, it can be compared to the vibes of Lovely Us and Reply 1988 during its initial episodes and proceeds to follow an almost slice of life like plot with the daily on going life of the characters at college and their relationship with their friends and 'person of interest'.

(It's also very loosely based on a novel "Yan Lei De Shang You" (眼泪的上游) by Ming Qian Yu Hou (明前雨后) which is literally translated to 'Upstream of Tears.' It dealt with the ignorance of youth and had a realistic portrayal of the 'One that Got Away', if you are curious.)

***THE WARM FUZZIES:

☆ Set during the late 90s and early 2000s, what makes ARRTI stand out from regular youth dramas is the absolutely vibrant portrayal of the various characters, the real nostalgic vibe that it brought along, and the absolutely relatable incidents and events that anyone can relate to. There's always a constant feeling of warmth throughout our journey with characters

☆ Right from the first episode, we come across Xia Xiao Ju, a timid but hardworking girl, who accidentally has an unceremonious first meeting with the naughty Lu Shi Yi. We meet their neighbour Cheng Lang, a compassionate and sincere boy, the fluffy Bao Xiang Xiang and the empathetic Qiu Le Tao. The journey with the five characters from high school to gaokao and their moments of happiness and sadness were deeply touching. Characters, even with less screen time, managed to flesh themselves out as realistic ones, breathing life into the drama. We fall for them, laugh and feel their sorrow with them. One of the most memorable scenes I would pick during their highschool days is the one where the gang chases after the departing train. What I initially thought to be a funny moment was painful. And I related a lot to the 'bidding farewell' scenes. For a coming of age drama, this is one of the best I've seen.

☆ None of the characters were cookie cutters. Everyone were multi dimensional with their own strengths and weakness. Cheng Lang, the studious sweet boy, does have his own share of naughty stuff with Lu Shiyi. Shiyi often plays around, but proves to be one of the best friends that one could wish to have. It was absolutely funny watching this drama on Youtube and each new episode had people saying how much Shiyi was starting to grow on them. Bao Bao comes off as lazy and funny, but is more understanding and his own share of difficulities to face. Tao Tao might be confused, but has more grit and resolve in her. Xiaoju is shaky when it comes to her own internal struggles, but recognizes her faults and attempts to correct them. The variety of characters, each with their own uniqueness and the brilliant portrayal by the actors was one of it's highlights. In terms of acting alone, this drama deserves a better rating than many of the hyped up ones.

☆ I was particularly impressed by Jiang Zhuo Jun's Qiu Letao. I'd found her role in Just an Encore almost forgettable, but from here, I could tell that she deserves characters with more depth and intensity. It was also a treat to see Wang Rui Chang as Lu Shi Yi. The last few episodes were some of the best moments of his and showcased his talent. Hu Yi Xuan never disappoints and this was no exception. Chen Bo Hao was another surprise - his character never annoyed me, even though he was set up as a someone who was supposed to rival Lu Shiyi. In fact, now that I think about it, none of the characters were annoying.

☆ The strong friendships are really well depicted with a hint of realism to it, emanating a lambent ambience that is bouyed by compelling performance by the cast. I couldn't find a single scene where I felt that anyone was trying too hard to make it seem natural. Nothing was forced. It was really heartwarming and relatable. Particularly the original gang: Xia Xiaoju, Cheng Lang, Lu Shiyi, Tao Tao and Bao Bao. Then later, at college, the bromance between Shiyi, Huang Jun and Cheng Lang. Not to mention Xiaoju and her roommates, including Tao Tao. The comedy element was never lost until some of the final few episodes.
Shiyi and Xiaoju's friendship is perhaps the highlight and backbone of the story. Their support, banter and care for each other was what kept us waiting for new episodes each day. In a way, we see them realize where their hearts lie and it was heart warming to watch. (Also a bit frustrating.)
Lu Shiyi just raised the bar up when it comes to best friend standards. Although annoying at times, he is often ruthless with his words and desperately attempts to help his friends when they are at their worst, may it be Cheng Lang or Xiaoju. His character was a standout for me among many leads I've seen - he is usually the kind of guy who is set up as a second lead whereas Cheng Lang would be the leading man. But, all the five of them (six including Huang Jun) had distinct personalities and worries that made each of them interesting in their own right. Their journey along the bumpy road of life was 100% worth my time.

☆ Another aspect that I love about this drama are the parental relationships. I'm sorry to say that I was at the opposite end of the Xiaoju - Mother arc, but some of the way that Xiaoju reacted reminded me exactly of my sister. Her conversations with her father were beautifully portrayed. I also found Cheng Lang's relationship with his mother really touching. Shi Yi's banter and arguments with his parents were absolutely funny. The parents' continued to make their appearance even towards the very end, which was something I've not seen much in many Chinese youth dramas and found it relatable and realistic.
Those moments with the family never failed to make me emotional and kudos to everyone involved.

☆ In terms of relationships, I personally feel that ARRTI covered some of them in a rather realistic/bittersweet manner that was much closer to reality. The last half of the drama particularly has a lot of focus on relationships, but never seemed too mushy and romance focussed. I never disliked any couple or ship, however boring they might be.

☆ The soundtrack was perfect; not flashy or over the top, but nostalgia inducing and warm. I was unable to understand a single word, but nevertheless, they made me feel the exact emotions that I was supposed to be feeling. My favourite ones:
▪Still Singing (依然歌唱) by Liu Xin (刘心).
▪Between the Lines That Year (那年的字里行间) by Guo Jing/Claire Kuo (郭靜).

The ending theme 'Dear Journey' (亲爱的远行) by Cao Xuan Bin (曹轩宾) was pleasant to listen to. I particularly liked the instrumental renditions of various songs. None felt out of place and complimented the scenes perfectly.

The BGM only added to the effects of ARRTI. Some of them were really memorable:

1. A flock of birds flying away.
2. A top toppling. (I read a YT comment pointing it out to be a tennis ball.)
3. A goat braying.
4. A chicken and duck crowing and quacking.
5. A train wooshing.
6. A cat meowing and dog barking - particularly when there was some humorous conversation between Tao Tao and Xiaoju.

***THE COLD PRICKLIES: [Mild spoilers.]

---- Xiao Ju's one-sided crush on Cheng Lang dragged waay too long, about 25+ episodes. It should've wrapped up right around EP24 or 25 so that the story could focus on Xiao Ju's growth and relationship with her family, but it didn't and so much time was unnecessarily wasted on the arc. On the positive side, none of the side characters were affected by this, so there was smooth development from their side. (Plus, I was unable to connect to her character as I had never experienced this. It looked like she was imagining a lot of stuff.)

---- As a result of the above point, the final few episodes are the weakest, particularly from EP32. They were a total rush as expected from a show destined to squeeze everything into 36 episodes. Not to mention, the warm quality and realistic character growth got totally thrown in the bin to give way for a really cliché and uninspired script that could be a part of any drama. We already have an excess of such Youth dramas with the same tropes, so it was extremely disappointing to see such a promising show take the exact same route. I, for one, was dissatisfied by the way everything got wrapped up with a bow as it almost seemed more like fanservice than actual content.

---What makes this more obvious is how closely the writers stuck to the novel upto episode 34. Possibly the most fatal flaw they had made. Had they wanted to give a more fulfilling and realistic end, they should've steered clear off the book's influence. Slow burn romance needs a lot of depth and time to construct; Xiao Ju and Shi Yi's friendship was more memorable than the push and pull crap that kept happening past EP30, completely failing to bring justice to their "romance". It just wasn't a convincing slowburn with only five episodes to stuff everything in. The last two episodes, albeit being beautiful, is plain mediocre; it was clearly a deus ex machina. It was forced and banal, completely forgetting it's realistic slice-of-life storyline in favour of a flamboyant end to satisfy viewers.

---- The character Xiaoju, never really got a chance to face the repercussions of her actions and her realization and growth were stuffed behind several dream sequences or time skips that was unfavourable for her.
Out of all the characters, she had the potential to have a really well portrayed storyline, but I failed to see any significant change in the way she was written. At some points after EP31, I could feel the inconsistency in her behaviour, which might be the result of trying to serve justice to her character, who in the book was a rather depressing one. Some of her actions suddenly seemed indecisive and stupid, often slow with her responses, thanks to the awful pacing and a timeskip that crowded the plotline of several characters together. I couldn't sympathize with her actions as somehow I glimpsed the shadow of the novel's end. It's such a shame when she could've been right up there with characters like Duk Soon and Chengzi, yet the drama failed to live upto it's potential. Time was what she needed, but it wasn't done convincingly. It's also understandable as the original novel wasn't as fleshed out as the live action. I could feel that the writers kept the book in mind and it somehow got unintentionally hinted for a minority of viewers, including myself.

--- There were more scenes of the leads getting support from their friends that I really liked, but when it came to themselves, the communication about their troubles and fears regarding their relationship was almost zero. Shiyi got no better than her - there are still questions and misunderstanding remaining from his side. It didn't help that we see his character's efforts for the first 30 episodes, but get little to no actual response from Xiaoju during the final episodes, where multiple character arcs come to a close, and the story took a very generic turn that was a stark contrast to its original tone. Which is a shame since more than half of the drama was spent on strengthening their relationship, but hits a rocky road after a time skip. It felt off and did both Shiyi and Xiaoju a disservice. Had the scriptwriters chosen a more slow and convincing progress, it would have been much better.

---- The timeskips worked excellently for the evolution of supporting characters. But, the slice-of-life like balance got lost during the last bit. The main leads disappeared offscreen in what seemed like an attempt to give other characters a proper closure. It didn't help that unnecessary misunderstandings were stuffed at the very end, sucking away the uniqueness of the drama. Also, a few scenes that could provide some credibility and continuity to the story were completely cut off, or clipped and locked behind a paywall. Which just might be one of the worst decisions I've ever seen a streaming platform make - many of us waited for crumbs and finding out that minor scenes that could develop the plot got cut off was iffy.

But, I enjoyed the story of each of the original gang members, hence my rating.

***FROM THE BANK OF THE RIVER:

Overall, the cast and crew attempted their best to bring the story to life.
Personally, the drama portrayed the bitterness of youth and the dilemma one faces during those times excellently.

My rating is an 8, minus the enjoyment factor, for which I'd gladly give this one a 9, even if the last few episodes were unnecessary for the leads. The characters and execution made this watching experience a really memorable one. But, for a drama that could've followed it's slice-of-life plot, it fell far off the mark and now I only can lament about its wasted potential.

In a way, I can understand why the Chinese Title of the drama is Shang You/Upstream.
Going upstream is never easy. There is the gravity constantly pulling you down and the river itself that stops your smooth passage. Time and river have two things in common: they pass by and if we are lucky, we find what we want at the right time or realize what we missed out on too late. But, in the end, they are all bittersweet and nostalgic memories that we will forever cherish. And if that was what " A River Flows Through It" wanted to pass on to us audience, they did it really well.

Do I think it's perfect? No way. Did it make me mad at times? Yes, definitely.
But the fact that it riles up such intense emotions within the viewers itself is a win for ARRTI.
And I do not plan to erase this small, flawed story of two lovable idiots and their friends anytime soon.

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A River Runs Through It (2024)

FAQs

What is the main point of a river that runs through it? ›

A River Runs Through is a cinematographically stunning true story of Norman Maclean. The story follows Norman and his brother Paul through the experiences of life and growing up, and how their love of fly fishing keeps them together despite varying life circ*mstances in the untamed west of Montana in the 1920's.

What was Norman's father's philosophy? ›

My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy. Rhythm was just as important as color and just as complicated.

What is the moral of A River Runs Through It? ›

This film shows the importance of having a shared family pastime to sustain them through good times and bad. The love of nature is shown throughout the movie. The father of the two main characters is a preacher, and he sees God and spirituality in the forests and rivers the family loves so much.

What is the deeper meaning of A River Runs Through It? ›

In this novella, rivers have several meanings. On one level, a river represents the natural world. On another level, the arc of a river flowing through the rocks and canyons of Montana symbolizes the arc of a human life. Both meanings of the river inform the overarching structure of the novella.

How old was Brad Pitt in the movie A River Runs Through It? ›

Brad Pitt was nearly 30 when A River Runs Through It came out, but he was mainly known for a bit role in Thelma and Louise and Cool World, where he played a police detective that winds up in a world of cartoons. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, it was not.

What is the last line of the book A River Runs Through It? ›

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.

Was a river run through it a true story? ›

A River Runs Through It and Other Stories is a semi-autobiographical collection of three stories by American author Norman Maclean (1902–1990) published in 1976. It was the first work of fiction published by the University of Chicago Press.

What does fly fishing represent in a river that runs through it? ›

In A River Runs Through It, fly fishing provides a model for the pastoral movement of retreat and return that informs Maclean's story.

Why do people like A River Runs Through It? ›

Historical accuracy is one of the things that makes this such a good drama. (spoilers) A River Runs Through It is an excellent story of the lives of one family, from the time the two sons were young boys to the time when one of them is an old man, and everyone else has died.

What is the inspirational quote from A River Runs Through It? ›

For it is true, we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.

What is fishing a metaphor for in A River Runs Through It? ›

As Norman watches his brother's seemingly charmed life dissolve under the influences of gambling and alcohol, the art of fly fishing becomes a touching metaphor for the love their father was unable to express in any other way.

Who is the old man at the end of the river runs through it? ›

Arnold Richardson was not the best-known Montanan to appear in a Hollywood movie, but his solitary bit part — as the elderly Norman Maclean in "A River Runs Through It" — remains one of the most iconic cinematic images of the state, partly responsible, for better or worse, for the explosion in the popularity of fly ...

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