Sunday 26 April 2020

Black Coal, Thin Ice [2014]

Diao Yinan’s expertly crafted neo-noir police procedural Black Coal, Thin Ice – exquisitely moody, dripping with atmosphere and deliciously slow-burning – evoked impressions of the likes of Bong’s darkly funny Memories of Murder and Fincher’s gripping Zodiac, in that the films’ elaborately constructed plots were hinged upon grisly crimes which occur over many years; hence, along with the winding investigations that ensue, psychological and existential effects of the time-frames on the protagonist(s) formed key aspects. It begins in 1999 when, shortly after a painful marital separation – the post-divorce coitus couldn’t help but remind me of the discomfiting opening chapter in Ozon’s 5x2 – Detective Zhang (Liao Fan) is assigned to investigate a gruesome murder, wherein the victim’s dismembered body parts are found in coal plants across multiple cities in China’s grungy north-east industrial belt; the investigation, however, ends in disaster, and sends Zhang on a downward spiral. Fast forward 5 years later – achieved using a blazing POV tracking shot – as the disgraced and alcoholic Zhang, working in a security job, has a chance meeting with his former partner, and is informed that the case might not be dead yet. And, the connecting thread to these murders might just be an enigmatic femme fatale (Gwei Lun-Mei) who had romantic ties to the various victims, and who Zhang can’t help but get drawn to. The film’s extraordinary visual palette brilliantly captured the urban desolation and alienation; that, combined with the quirky use of background score – ranging from Straus’ waltz to disco tracks – and deliberately off-kilter moments that regularly punctuated the narrative, made it a deceptively radical work that succeeded as a solid genre film, a compelling mood piece and a bleak sociopolitical commentary.

Director: Diao Yinan
Genre: Crime Drama/Neo-Noir/Police Procedural
Language: Mandarin
Country: China

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