Black Coal, Thin Ice is a strange murder mystery. It at times feels more complicated than it should and at its heart of hearts is a strange love story centered around a murder… or murders. The film opens with the discovery of a body part on a coal line. Other parts of the body turn up all over the providence. I should pause to mention that this first murder is taking place before forensics were common practice and it’s in China which doesn’t exactly rely on science to prove cases as much as it does confessions being beaten out of people. Our lead on the case and our main character, follows a hunch about two men that actually drove to all of the coal plants making them likely suspects. They go to arrest them and they try to flee, but are ultimately captured. Then, one of the best scenes of the movie happens and I won’t spoil it. Our lead on the case is injured and retires from the force.
Years later we pick up with him drunk on the side of the road. A stranger attempts to help our drunken main character, but he pushes them away and they steal his motorcycle that was left running. The rest of the movie he drives the motor scooter that was left in his bike’s place which was funny to me. By chance he spots his old partner on a stake out and it seems to have ties to the case that made our main dude retire. From there, our main character spends every moment trying to solve the case, but mostly because the woman at the center of everything is beautiful and caught his eye.
The mystery isn’t too hard to solve. It’s pretty straight forward and the movie always gives you the pieces to figure it out alongside the characters in the film. There’s a twist at the end of course, but again, you’re so close to story that you’ll figure it out with our crack shot detective. What was a bummer about the mystery was that all of the clues were very obvious as you watched everything unfold. Nothing is subtle or misleading, it’s a “just the facts” type of mystery which isn’t that interesting.
The other part of the story that was a disappointment was the ending. The movie gets to a natural ending and then continues to go… and go. Part of it was interesting because it showed how jacked up the criminal justice system is in China, but the majority of it was a huge head scratcher as to why we were watching it. The film was over. The mystery was solved… you don’t need to watch it after that.
The movie would have you believe that our leading lady is a strong character putting on a weak act, but in fact she’s a woman that is taken advantage of at every turn. She has no personality and barely talks and yet practically every man in the film tries to sleep with her… by force. It was disappointing since they built her up as some kind of mastermind and yet she was basically just a victim over and over and when the system should have taken pity on her it instead threw the book at her. It was the biggest missed opportunity of the film which was too bad since her character was at the center of the story and honestly felt more like a moving plot device than a character. The acting was okay. No one really stood out and it felt like a lot of first time people taking a stab at acting.
The look of the film was great. So great that it spends a lot of time showing beautiful shots of this and that and capturing the weather. There were some interesting camera shots, but a lot of it was point and shoot. It’s just that the location and settings elevated it so it wasn’t as noticeable. Overall though a good looking film.
Like any murder mystery its worth watching once. I wish the ending was stronger because it could have made up for a lot of the problems with the film. Sure our one and only female character would still have been a plot device, but at least the mystery could have been rewarding. It was worth a view, but I don’t know if you’ll get much more out of it afterwards.
Black Coal, Thin Ice Director: Diao Yinan Run Time: 110 Min Language: Mandarin Distributor: WellGoUSA Entertainment Release Date: 9/29/15 Format: Blu-Ray, DVD