Northern China, 1999. The grisly discovery of several corpses is made in a small town. A bloody incident during the attempt to capture the alleged murderer leaves two police officers dead and another badly injured…
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This is not your police procedural. It's a meditation on the idea of progress. Progress is not a straight line. It zig-zags and circles around on itself. It's why we keep revisiting the same places in the movie. What is needed, instead of a brilliant detective, is someone who won't give up. I really enjoyed the wild unpredictability of the whole thing. And what a perfect ending!
On his podcast, author Bret Easton Ellis argues again and again that, while television is about information, film is primarily about mood and atmosphere. It's a theory that bears out in "Black Coal, Thin Ice," a Chinese neo-noir that shares faint similarities to the first season of "True Detective" and yet arguably surpasses it thanks to an oppressively bleak and frigid visual palette. A near masterpiece.
The prickly Black Coal, Thin Ice slowly envelopes the viewer in its quietly gonzo vision of an industrial world that keeps spinning no matter what happens to the people that inhabit it. The film also uses its murder mystery to glancingly suggest a much more malignant force than murder. Almost all of the film's characters feel beaten and beleaguered, rendered fatigued and submissive by society: particularly the women.
It sacrifices its characters to construct a thesis. In this way, it reminded me of Fincher and "Gone Girl". Cinema, for its own sake, must not become a rethoric art. Even so, there are many good things here. Yet the inabilty of Diao Yi'nan to end his film proves what I'm saying.
In the wealth of contemporary Chinese cinema - given the lack of knowledge I have of its classic period - this award-winning film makes a poor relation, being repetitive and redundant. Far-fetched in its dramatic construction, with a too obvious effort to seem mysterious and "strange", seeking a formal attitude that itself always denies, so clearly outside the film itself. Too many final codas, all frustrating.
A tricky film to get a grip on, especially if you expect a film noir and find out that so much of the movie leans towards the absurd. This is a police procedural where the police are practically clowns, not solving so much as stumbling upon a solution—and even then, they don't grasp the significance. A dig at both Western cliches and Chinese authorities. Which, come to think of it, is the opposite of Transformers 4.
I have an uncomfortable feeling about this film before watching it. This is a GOLDEN BEAR winner from CHINA. That sounds like a film that surely consists of shot of people eating for 5 minutes, people staring at trees for 3 minutes, etc.
But heck I was wrong.More Memories of Murder and less Stray Dogs, let's just say that now I finally have an answer when someone's asking "hey what's your favorite Asian Neo-noir?"