Indeed, Chinese filmmaker Diao Yinan wrote and directed the story following an inspector, Zhang Zili – played by the outstanding Liao Fan – who from 1999 (year A) to 2005 (year Z), got divorced, was fired from the Police force and became an alcoholic; a detective-evolution cliché.
Everything started in year A, when Zhang sees his wife – who asked for divorce – for the last time and the year when a first dismembered corpse was find in a coal refinery. This is a starting point of a series of murders, all of men.
Yin’s camerawork is breathtaking, some shots are extremely poetic, not to mention the transcendent photography. A sensitivity continuing, accentuating, getting warmer and darker as the movie goes.
Zhang along with his colleague Wang (Yu Ailei) found a lead, which turned very wrong – into a blood bath – causing the detective his termination.
With a same amazing style and light, the director offers a real pleasure for the eye; the neons of a suspicious underground.
An ellipse flash-forwards us to 2005; a new similar murder happened. Zhang, who was in bad shape, aimless, fell into Wang, who got promoted with the years. Lucky for Zhang he got the most important info, about the case, and lead him own investigation.
What saves Black Coal, Thin Ice, from turning into a cliché, is the relationship between Zhang and the woman who’s husband was the first murdered ; Wu Zhizhen (Gwei Lun-Mei). One of the best exploration of ambiguous desire.
Zhang follows her, from where she works to where she lives, until they finally start to sew a weird relationship. Their evolution is combined with desire, love-like, and duty; Zhang wants to catch her in every way possible, catch a woman as cold as ice, expressionless, passive and yet very imposant.
In a very Nicolas Winding Refn-like atmosphere, the two characters are evolving around a sensitive police case, that distorts the genuineness of what, us, spectators, observe.
Black Coal, Thin Ice, is a very poetic thriller, with overwhelming beauty wrapping up some scenes. It will more esthetically captivate you than catch you with its story (which is fragile), and yet, the cinematography will pushes you to focus on Zhang/Wu duo, and get the essence of BCTI.