Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)    0 Stars


Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)


Director: Yi’nan Diao

Cast: Fan Liao, Lun Mei Gwei, Xuebing Wang

Synopsis: An ex cop and his ex partner decide to follow up on investigation of a series of murders that ended their careers and shamed them, when identical murders begin again.







The bleak winter in which much of Yi’nan Diao’s Black Coal, Thin Ice takes place is a reflection of the inner landscape of its characters, a collection of lost souls for whom life holds no joy and little hope. The plot ostensibly concerns the hunt for a killer who dismembers his victims and then drops the body parts onto trains ferrying coal in open-topped compartments to various depots around the country. But it’s really about the detective for whom the case proves to be the source of both near-destruction and eventual redemption. Or, at least, a redemption of sorts.

The detective’s name is Zhang Zili (Fan Liao). He’s a dogged sort, but he’s not easy to like. But then he seems to live in a cold-hearted world in which weakness is preyed upon, so it’s hardly surprising he’s the way that he is. Early on in the movie, when he’s at his lowest ebb, a POV camera tracks past his prone body slumped beside a road. It performs a slow 360’ turn before relinquishing its subjective point of view to reveal a man on a bike. At first, it looks as if he has stopped to come to Zhang’s aid, but instead he steals his bike, leaving behind his own inferior model. It’s typical of Diao’s jaundiced view of the world: nothing is quite as it seems. The hero uses his position to abuse a woman, the villain acts out of a warped kind of love, and the accused is more blameless victim than villain.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is as emotionally cold as its characters. It’s slow and solemn, punctuated by long silences, and the camera observes with a chilly dispassion. The plot is heavy on atmosphere, and complicated by an oblique style of narration. The significance of certain incidents isn’t always apparent, but other moments to which Diao pays attention turn out to be of no importance. It’s as if he’s playing a game with his audience, the rules of which haven’t been explained to us.

(Reviewed 11th November 2015)

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