Offbeat is a word regularly used in relation to Asian cinema, and there’s often much lost in translation. Black Coal, Thin Ice, the new film by Diao Yinan, the director of Night Train and Uniform, eschews the current fad for overly stylish noir in favour of realism. Whilst the winner of the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin Film Berlinale is very different to the fare being served up in multiplexes, it’s an impressive, if sometimes impregnable, crime thriller.
When body parts are found scattered over hundreds of miles apart, Zhang (Liao Fan) heads up a team to investigate the murder. After things go badly wrong he becomes a washed-up alcoholic struggling to find any purpose in life. Five years later, Zhang finds himself involved again when a similar crime is being investigated. Suspicion falls on Wu (Gwei Lun-Mei), who is connected with all the deaths, but there’s much that doesn’t make sense.
Black Coal, Thin Ice is old school in ethos whilst continuing the flourishing growth of independent cinema in China. Wu is the femme fatale, but much of the complexity of her character is hidden. This is a theme running throughout Diao Yinan’s film which much remaining a mystery, especially the final sequence. Whilst it may not be for everyone, if you’re interested in the more considered and obtuse side of World Cinema, then Black Coal, Thin Ice is definitely worth seeking out.
Black Coal, Thin Ice is out in cinemas on Friday.