Actors: Fan Liao, Xuebing Wang
Director: Diao Yinan
Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Well Go USA
Release Date: September 29, 2015
Run Time: 110 minutes
The magnificence of Diao Yinan’s abilities as a filmmaker lie in his ability to keep a film absolutely riveting, even in the moments where it is difficult to follow the narrative. Black Coal, Thin Ice is not a perfect film, but I wouldn’t change a thing about Yinan’s approach to the material. Every scene kept me engaged, and even if the screenplay demands more attentiveness from the audience than your typical neo-noir, this is only further reason for repeat viewings. And Black Coal, Thin Ice is a film I would not mind watching more than once.
Black Coal, Thin Ice begins as many other noirs do, with an unsolved murder. Body parts are showing up in coal shipments all over a wide area, and cops are baffled at their origins and any clue who may have committed the murder. Detective Zili Zhang (Liao Fan) fails to solve the crime and eventually allows his career to slip away with alcoholism and depression, but when an identical crime occurs it provides him the opportunity for redemption. Discovering a connection between the murders lies with a somber young woman working at a dry cleaning shop, Zhang begins following her to find answers. Despite no longer working as a cop, and perhaps partly because of this distance from procedure, Zhang’s dedication to the truth behind the murders proves to be the greatest weapon.
The violence in the film is sporadic and unexpected. This is not a film with superhuman cops, however crafty some of the criminals are. In a crucial early shootout sequence, our protagonist stumbles for his gun, wearing an expression that suggests even he was unprepared for the moment he would have to use it. On the other side of the coin, this also isn’t a movie filled with deep dialogue. Often we are left to wonder what the characters are even thinking, while the visual style of the filmmaking helps to fill in the gaps. It has the restraint of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive or David Fincher’s Zodiac paired with a narrative similar to Sea of Love. And even with these similarities to other films, Black Coal, Thin Ice is a tremendously original experience, showing Yinan to be a filmmaker worth watching out for in the future.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 6.5/10