working poor are regularly ignored and exploited, but from their ranks will emerge
an unlikely black widow that even James Cain would appreciate. Wu Zhizhen toils
thanklessly in a provincial dry cleaner, but the last three men to be
romantically linked to her met with early demises. Her suspicious misfortune
attracts the attention of a disgraced ex-cop in Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice (clip here), which screens
during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
1999, hard boozing Det. Zhang Zili is called to investigate the discovery of
multiple body parts at the local coal processing plant. Learning other pieces
have turned up at other facilities, Zhang connects the dots to the Liu
brothers, two drivers with a sketchy past. However, his routine inquiry goes
spectacularly bad. The case is presumed solved, but that will not save his
years later, an old colleague comes to Zhang for an off the books consultation.
The widow of the dismembered coal corpse has just lost her third significant
other to foul play. The two more recent bodies were both found wearing ice
skates, suggesting an obvious pattern. Seeking some sort of personal
satisfaction, Zhang starts following Wu, but she is neither careless nor easily
intimidated. However, as she gets used to his presence, she starts to entertain
a Taiwanese Bette Davis, Gwei Lun Mei is a deceptively innocent looking femme
fatale, but still a powerfully seductive screen presence. Well suited for Wu,
she keeps audience sympathies sharply divided and expectations off-balance
throughout Coal. She is also probably
the biggest international movie star gracing Tribeca screens this year.
Liao Fan revels in Zhang’s anti-heroics and degenerate binging. In fact, his
flaws run so deep he had to be cashiered out of the police force to satisfy the
Chinese censorship board. Intriguingly off-kilter in a hardnosed kind of way,
Liao deservedly won the Silver Bear at Berlin for his work.
a way, Coal bridges the gap between Chinese
“indie films” and commercial releases to a surprising extent. Everything that
goes down in Diao’s narrative is ultimately attributable to systemic injustice
and inequity. Wu may very well be involved in something nefarious, but it is
impossible to judge her harshly. Yet, this pointed social commentary proved to
be a monster hit at the Chinese box office.
could be considered a Chinese noir in the
tradition of Fargo. The weather is cold,
the landscape is grim, and people often behave in a dark and unpredictable
manner. It is all definitely good stuff. Highly recommended, Black Coal, Thin Ice is a head-and-shoulders
stand-out at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where it screens again tomorrow
(4/22), Thursday (4/24), and Saturday (4/26).
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Diao Yinan, Film Noir, Gwei Lun Mei, Tribeca '14