Black Coal, Thin Ice (Bai ri yan huo)
Cert: 15 Year: 2014 Length: 110 mins Language: Mandarin
Cinema Handout (PDF 81KB)
Score: 52.33% Attendance: 90
'Film Noir' had its heyday in the black and white era of the 40s and 50s, but it has never quite gone away (and thank goodness for that). Modern 'neo-noir' has replaced some of the shadows with neon colours, but the femme fatale is still there. Director Yi'nan Diao brings us his version here - with a difference; instead of a fast paced, simple plot, he makes character more important. His femme fatale might even be an innocent bystander; what matters is the relationships.
The story starts with body parts turning up in coal processing plants. Zhang, the detective in charge, bungles the case badly. We rejoin him 5 years later as an alcoholic security guard when similar murders begin to happen again. He starts to look into the case with his ex-partner and they link the murders to a beautiful and mysterious widow; is she involved? Is she perhaps the killer?
The film won the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival (beating Boyhood into 2nd place) and high acclaim from most critics, though some have found it's plot confusing even though it is beautiful to see.
"Puzzling out the whos and the whys of this marvellously oddball case takes a back seat to drinking in the film's dark, shining evocation of night and the city. The staging is like Tarantino in a brooding funk: take the beauty parlour face-off, a flurry of crazed action against a chequered floor bathed in pink light. There are hints of Vertigo – a comparably elusive film plot-wise – in the central relationship, which has its own melancholic twists and turns. But if Diao's intent on confounding us, he has the courtesy to do it with frequently astonishing style and verve" - Tim Robey, Telegraph.
A beautiful, Chinese, complicated neo-noir, then; bring it on!
Black Coal, Thin Ice may well floor some viewers, as it did the Berlin jury. But others will find it too obtuse and remote, its characters too withdrawn to be relatable. See it, though, for those fleeting, unforgettable visual touches
Tom Huddleston, Time Out
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