Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Director : Diao Yinan
Screenwriter : Diao Yinan
Cinematographer : Dong Jingsong
Editor : Yang Hongyu
Cast : Liao Fan, Gwei Lun Mei, Wang Xuebing, Wang Jingchun, Yu Ailei, Ni Jingyang
Music : Wen Zi
This is an interesting take on the crime thriller genre from China. It focuses on a detective who’s confronted with a case where random body parts appear in various coal factories across the country, a case which he is unable to solve that leads to tragedy. Years later a lead comes up again and it relates to the widow of one of the original victims, who is linked with the recent disappearances of other men.
I thought the mystery was actually somewhat clever and original although the answers are not all completely convincing. The important points do make sense by the end but while watching the story unfold, there are times when it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. This is especially the case during sequences with little to no dialogue. Often it seems like the detective is not doing anything useful but in actuality is observing and investigating. We are not immediately privy to the links and conclusions he draws from his findings. For a mystery, I think this is a good thing because it requires the audience to be detectives themselves for a bit. However, for some it might be frustrating. This vagueness also comes across in the sometimes ambiguous facial expressions of the detective and the widow which I think can make it hard to read their feelings. It’s mostly sad or stone faced expressions. However, there are parts of the story that are flat out random and seemingly nonsensical (like the puzzling epilogue) though some of these events are actually darkly comedic.
The color palette of scenes in this film changes quite a bit. It starts off looking very realistic with scenes in typical city environments and industrial areas. Then there are scenes here and there that twist this realism from wildly colored, garish interiors to white snowy outdoors and dark nights tinted with yellow lights. There also are a lot of close-up shots of some characters and there’s definitely a dreamy, hazy quality to some scenes. The film is visually very interesting to view. Perhaps setting the story in the dirtier and darker areas of China helps make this film feel fresher than it should but I do think there’s enough originality here to make it worth a viewing for those experienced with the genre.