Black Coal, Thin Ice
Although the direct translation of the title is “daylight fireworks”, Black Coal, Thin Ice succinctly condenses the film’s crime scenes: death by ice-skate and cleaved limbs are the essence of Daio Yinan’s chilling thriller. The plot moves at a patient pace revealing, bit by bit, the threads to a large network of murders; the dark and stealthy plot has tension as well as rare human empathy, for this genre.
It’s 1999 and a grisly string of body parts are discovered in coal shuttles, along with an ID card pointing to two suspects. Small-town detective Zhang Zili (Liao Fan) and his partner make a haphazard and consequently bloody arrest, which disgraces him from the police service and forces him to take a job as a security guard. Five years on, and suspiciously similar evidence patterns emerge once more. Zhang resumes his unofficial investigation; a woman appears to be linked to the murders but her vulnerability is a smokescreen for more sinister involvement
The characters are flawed and multidimensional, keeping you guessing about where intentions and loyalties lie. Zhang is an affected, sceptical alcoholic, but a man driven by curiosity. His loneliness attracts him to the affections of his prime suspect (Gwei Lun-Mei), meaning trust and professionalism become muddied. Desperate to redeem himself, he must decipher more than evidence, but his own consciousness is called into question. For different reasons, the psychological mask of each character results in unease and an effective build in suspense.
The cinematic style is shadowy and focuses on the minutiae of provincial Chinese life. Dreary and depressingly cold weather plunges the story into further darkness and heightens the isolation of the protagonists. A slow burn with a decent twist, and even a metaphoric ending, Black Coal, Thin Ice is a mystery right to the end.
Black Coal, Thin Ice is released in selected cinemas on 9th October 2014.
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