When style conventions are punctuated by different issues, Black Coal, Skinny Ice slowly drifts away (in a great way) from the anticipated.
The plot of Black Coal, Skinny Ice (in Mandarin, and launched in 2014) is the stuff of basic murder-mystery, and the opening stretch lays out this premise with medical effectivity. The yr is 1999. There’s some type of cloth-wrapped bundle peeking out from the coal in the back of a truck. The form of the bundle turns into clearer because the coal is dumped right into a yard, scooped up and deposited on a conveyor belt, and earlier than lengthy, a helmeted worker is shouting to the road operator to close the facility off. Because the belt involves a cease, we see what the bundle contained: a severed hand.
In the meantime, we have now been cross-cutting to a person and a lady. Whereas all this soundless motion has been taking place across the coal, these two have been enjoying playing cards, soundlessly. And simply when the lifeless hand is found, we reduce to the lady’s arms right here. The couple is now making love and her fingers are twitching. The person, we be taught, is a detective named Zhang Zili. He’s obtained a divorce from this lady, and this seems to be their last assembly.
With the 2 cross-cut narratives, a thematic core has been established — although it’s most likely evident solely by the top. At the same time as Zhang investigates the thriller behind the limb, we’re in a narrative about husbands who’ve withdrawn from their wives. However coming back to this scene, between Zhang and his divorced spouse, what a curious approach that is to spend time with a previously beloved one you are actually separating from. The lovemaking, I perceive. It’s the card-playing that feels odd. Of all of the issues you might do…
However then, these “odd” bits are a given with Diao Yinan. The filmmaker has made solely 4 movies since — and together with his first one — Uniform (2003), however it’s been a wealthy career. Evening Practice (2007) and The Wild Goose Lake (2019) performed at Cannes, and Black Coal, Skinny Ice gained the Golden Bear for Finest Movie on the 64th Berlin Worldwide Movie Competition. All of them have stable “genre” premises, but none of them is what you’d name a nail-biter.
In Uniform, a person pretends to be a cop when he stumbles upon a policeman’s apparel. In Evening Practice, a feminine jail guard (and helper in executions) strikes up a relationship with a widower she could have a disturbing reference to. In The Wild Goose Lake, a hunted gangster and a intercourse employee are on the run. However past the style thrills, there’s some type of commentary taking place, too. In any other case, why have the scene in The Wild Goose Lake, as an example, the place a person is gunned down by the police even after he surrenders?
In a Movie Remark interview, Diao Yinan stated, “I don’t just want to portray society in a sentimental prose style or as slices of life… Genre films can be made well, can be made seriously. Another way of saying it is that genre films can also express an attitude towards society, towards reality.” In different phrases, as a substitute of expressing his views on society by way of a “social” drama, he’s opting to say what he desires to say by way of tales of crime. He added, “(The genre film) may be a touch cynical, but deep down it is very pure and serious.”
And so, when style conventions are punctuated by these different issues, the movie slowly drifts away (in a great way) from the anticipated.
Some of the startling and unusual – i.e., “odd” — scenes in Black Coal, Skinny Ice happens when two detectives interview the supervisor of an condominium advanced. However abruptly, there’s a horse within the constructing. The supervisor is as stumped as we’re. She asks, “Who brought a horse in here?” The reply: “It’s been wandering around the neighborhood. It looked cold and hungry, so the neighbors brought it in.”
The investigation continues after this temporary interlude, however what a scene! Screenwriting colleges would most likely say it’s not wanted. (Does the movie work with out the horse? It does, completely effectively.) However the horse says one thing. At the very least, it suggests one thing. Together with the central thriller (whose hand was discovered within the coal?), we now have a secondary one (whose horse is that this?). And on the finish, after we
find out who the killer is, the revelation occurs in the middle of a street, and, out of nowhere, fireworks appear. Who? Why? It’s another mystery, another “odd” bit in the film.
And that’s where interviews help. I strongly believe that one should not read what a filmmaker has to say about his/her film before you watch it, because it wires you into his/her way of thinking, and sometimes you end up seeing the film that the director (through these interviews) brainwashes you into seeing. But afterwards, interviews can be very useful. The fireworks scene at the end of Black Coal, Thin Ice still works for me without my “understanding” it. It’s such a surreal stretch that you gape at it like you’d gape at, say, the Northern Lights.
But if you still want to know what it’s about, here’s a passage from an interview in timeoutshanghai.com: “The Chinese name for Black Coal, Thin Ice translates to ‘fireworks in daylight’. While the English title carries overt references to film noir (‘black’ coal and white ‘ice’), the Chinese title is more metaphorical. Fireworks in daylight provide a kind of emotional catharsis that people use to shield themselves from the harsher aspects of the world… The truth is that in every person’s inner world they might hide some unbearable memories, but most days they have to behave as if nothing has happened… In using this title I’m obviously suggesting that Chinese people today are in dire need of that kind of catharsis.”
Even the setting (the coal plant) is a statement. Diao Yinan told fourthreefilm.com that the majority of the Chinese market would rather use the scenery of a beautiful city. It is a bit unusual to focus on the industrial village and industrial sites. Only a few directors like Jia Zhangke and Wang Bing use such locations. “Perhaps it has something to do with the way they were all brought up… They were from those types of cities, small cities…. A person from an industrial background can also see the loneliness it creates.”
This is the thing that alienates some viewers from such films. They say: Why should I watch movies where I need a glossary (in the form of an interview) to “fully” get it? Why can’t I just watch a “simple” genre film, instead? Well, sure. I can’t answer for others, but at least for me, the appeal of a film like Black Coal, Thin Ice comes from the question: “What else can you do with a genre film?” Also, I suppose it helps if you don’t watch films to entirely understand them. I mean, it would be a bummer if I didn’t get the who-what-why of the murder mystery itself. But the “odd” bits like that horse, or those fireworks — these are just a part of cinema’s mystery.