It’s 1999 and Chinese detective Zhang’s (Fan Liao) investigation of dismembered body parts that turn up in a coal plant takes him to a hideously botched shootout at a hairdresser’s and the kind of guilt that sees him wallowing, five years on, in alcohol-fuelled sinecure as a security guard. Then more body parts turn up, a link is established to the widow of the initial victim (Lun Mei Gwei) and Zhang re-engages: with life, love and sleuthing.
Featuring a femme fatale, unusual and distinctively rendered environments, ambiguous morality and inexplicable sympathies, this year’s Golden Bear winner plots its convoluted way to a confounding denouement with the help of Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance atmospherics and imperturbably disturbed Hitchcockian protagonists – with sly references to Carol Reed’s The Third Man upping the allusive ante. Merging the sum of these parts with stark milieu studies, director Diao and DP Dong Jinsong have created a new language of noir social realism that leaves logic to hobble along behind. But since this process mirrors the hero’s own confusions, it feels strangely satisfying.
Black Coal, Thin Ice | Directed by Yi’nan Diao (China 2014) with Fan Liao, Lun Mei Gwei, Xuebing Wang. Starts July 24
Originally published in issue #129, July/August 2014.