Black Coal, Thin Ice Screen 16 articles

Black Coal, Thin Ice

2014

Black Coal, Thin Ice Poster
  • Diao paints light on the dirty snow and frosted glass, the result at times strikingly, starkly beautiful: the sick greenish-yellow of the lights at a nighttime ice rink, the reds and purples of neon signage. Noir was never supposed to be a big-budget genre; it works with what it can get. In snow-coated apartment blocks and industrial landscapes, Black Coal, Thin Ice finds a deep, deadly chill.

  • Black Coal, Thin Ice is noir stripped so bare that its stark procedural lapses into the abstract, where bleached daytime shots create a purgatory that lapses into the hell of the night, where monochrome contrasts of black skies and icy streets are given a sinister gloss by neon green and fuchsia.

  • Tracing a former detective’s complicated quest to solve a very cold case indeed, its narrative eventually freezes into impenetrability, but it’s an alluring void.

  • ++

    Sight & Sound: Jordan Cronk
    June 05, 2015 | July 2015 Issue (pp. 64-65)

    A seemingly familiar tale of emotional and sexual dependency, Diao's third feature is rendered strange and intoxicating by the director's methodical pacing and duplex narrative structure, proceeding from passages of macabre violence to sequences of surreal imagery and tense encounters pregnant with parallel meaning and suppressed passions.

  • Puzzling out the whos, the whys and the WTFs 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 in the central relationship. But if Diao’s intent on confounding us, he has the courtesy to do it with frequently astonishing style and verve.

  • Golden Bear is a bit of a surprise, since this isn't a dully pleasing compromise choice but a spiky, neon-lit, great-to-look-at crime drama that's nonetheless a near-miss; you'd think anyone (i.e. a jury) that appreciates what it's doing would be able to see the flaws as well.

  • Seems more intriguing than it ultimately turns out to be, which is another way of saying that it becomes much plottier than I'd anticipated. High points are remarkable, though, and Diao perversely stages his violent setpieces as if he's completely unaware of what's going to happen, providing no direct cues that we should be feeling tense. The salon shootout, in particular, is uniquely insane.

  • In the context of the immediate competition, Black Coal, Thin Ice was one of some half-dozen works best described as crime films for people who hate crime films—mid-level art-house fare that tries to look different by toying with genre elements while taking care to avoid being mistaken for an outright thriller or a policier.

  • After West Of The Tracks, opening scenes in factories seem far too clean, grandiose and well-organized, and tonal missteps become as frequent as good decisions. Still, Diao has good, unexpected setpieces and a flair for unexpected movements; he seems worth keeping up with, even quite apart from the narrative of his commercial/collaborative trajectory.

  • My friend Mike Walsh of Australia pointed out that the mainland [Chinese] cinema’s bleak realism seems to be starting to blend with traditional genre material... Diao’s film reminds us that you can create a neo-noir in two ways: By taking a mystery and dirtying it up, or taking concrete reality and probing the mysteries lurking in it.

  • It wouldn’t be surprising if Black Coal, Thin Ice were to give the [Chinese] authorities a headache: it’s the darkest shade of noir, replete with dismemberment and sexual violence, though Diao juices it up with a subtly insinuating neon glow, a remarkably daring sense of absurdist humour, and some very witty and stylish flourishes.

  • The sheer diversity of visual vocabulary here is stunning, and Diao is able to command the images of every scene to conjure an odd feeling that is hard to place and articulate. How rare to encounter a film with motivations that can't be detected, that can hardly be caught up to. One senses the director approaching each scene with the thought "how do I make this as unlike anything we've seen," even if the resulting choices are subtle and discreet.

  • In its first half, the film is excellent. The unkempt, unorthodox detective, the sudden bursts of violence and acrobatic action, and the dark, incongruous humor, all of which are strongly reminiscent of Bong Joon-ho’s work, move the story along at a brisk, captivating pace. As Zhang sleuths his way to the truth, however, this momentum disappears. The primary reason for this is sloppy storytelling, which makes the increasingly complex chain of events confusing instead of intriguing.

  • the film is flawed by the odd clumsy, perhaps unintentionally funny moment and by a narrative that occasionally rambles a little; but it deploys its staple elements – divorced detective who drinks too much, femme fatale, mysterious prime suspect – with genuine affection, so that one forgives and is carried along by any familiar tropes. It’s also good to see a film which is pleasingly discreet in evoking rather than explicitly depicting horrendous violence.

  • The spirits of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain course through “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” a bleak but powerful, carefully controlled detective thriller in which — like all of the best noirs — there are no real heroes or villains, only various states of compromise... Throughout, Diao maintains an impressive mood of unease and encroaching danger, which carries the film forward even when the plotting becomes a touch too knotty for its own good...

  • About ten years ago, D.K. Holm introduced the term “film soleil,” and while Diao Yinan’sBlack Coal, Thin Ice (Bai Ri Yan Huo) has its share of neon-spiked night scenes, it is a bright and smartly lit noir that’d fit right into the subgenre. Body parts scattered across an area of northern China a couple of hundred miles wide kick off a swift detective story that slows in the middle but picks up nicely again in the third act.

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