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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Black Coal Thin Ice (Feuerwerk am Helllichten Tage, Bai Ri Yan Huo)

China 2014
Starts July 24, 2014

Directed by: Diao Yinan
Writing credits: Diao Yinan
Cast: Liao Fan, Gwei Lun Mei, Wang Xuebing, Wang Jingchun, Yu Ailei, Ni Jingyang
Length: 106 minutes

Black Coal Thin Ice (Feuerwerk am Helllichten Tage, Bai Ri Yan Huo) The German title more closely resembles the Chinese original than the English title. Bairi means the light of day (literally white day) and Yanhuo means fireworks.  This film received top prize at the 2014 Berlinale: the Golden Bear for best film; Liao Fan won the Silver Bear for best actor. It has broken all attendance records for art house movies in its home country of China.  

In 1999 body parts show up in coal dumps one hundred square miles around northern China. During the investigation two policemen are killed. Inspector Zhang Zili is injured but survives physically. Mentally he deteriorates into an alcoholic stupor and loses his job. Five years later, the same procedure as before: more body parts. They seem to have been thrown from a bridge into open train cars which carry coal to the dumps. Zhang, although out of office, privately takes on a new investigation, determined to find the culprit. He soon realizes that all of the victims have a connection to one certain young woman, Wu Zhizhen, who works in a dry cleaning establishment.

From this point the story turns into your usual whodunit, as one clue leads to the next. I don’t know if it was necessary for Zhang to go so far as to fall in love with Wu, but he did, which was good for a love scene in a Ferris wheel. Perhaps the film broke attendance records because people in China had to see the film twice (which I would recommend, as it’s difficult to follow all the nuances in one showing). Perhaps it was the dark scenes, the long silences, the photography, or, of course, the fine actors, which impressed the Berlinale Jury. And there are fireworks at the end. ()

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