The extraordinary location of Singaporean writer-director Anthony Chen’s latest film, The breaking ice (Rand Dong), quietly but eloquently underlines the circumstances of its young protagonists, each of them seeming stuck, their lives suspended as if frozen in place. The city of Yanji in northeastern China has vast, scenic snow-covered landscapes and a large Korean community that proudly maintains its cultural identity in the shadow of the North Korean border. It’s a setting that reinforces the isolation of the story’s three outsiders, just as it makes their bond more immediate, an urgent lifeline in the enveloping chill.
After his English-language debut Driftabout an African refugee paralyzed by trauma, Chen returns here to the softer observational style and hushed intimacy of his beautiful domestic drama, Ilo Ilowho won the Camera d’Or for best first feature ten years ago at Cannes.
The breaking ice
It comes down to
A satisfying character study in a minor key.
The characters of the new film – a woman and two men in their twenties, played with great composure by three attractive, impeccably naturalistic actors – are haunted by sorrows, frustrations and anxieties that are rarely expressed, but their many moments of introspection reveal as much as withhold them.
Chen mentions his love for it Jules and Jim as a source of structural inspiration, but that is here transformed into a rapidly evolving relationship that unfolds in just a few intense days. This isn’t so much a conventional romantic triangle as an impressionistic Generation Z portrait; his reflections on disappointment and stagnation seem likely to resonate with young audiences, regardless of their cultural background.
The centerpiece of the trio is Nana (Zhou Dongyu), who has moved to Yanji to deal a crushing blow to her home and now works as a tour guide, bussing Chinese visitors across the city to experience authentic Korean traditions. One of her tour stops is a restaurant where Xiao (Qu Chuxiao) works. Nana has a half-hearted, prickly relationship with the good-natured slapper, who moved there from Sichuan after dropping out of school to help his aunt and her Korean husband, who owns the place.
The third element is Haofeng (Liu Haoran), who works in finance in Shanghai and is in Yanji for a former classmate’s wedding. Reticent in interactions with his old friends, he reluctantly participates in the festivities. He shows clear signs of depression and may be suicidal, a suggestion reinforced by the calls he continues to dodge from a mental health counseling center.
When Haofeng takes the bus tour, he is attracted to Nana, who remains somewhat aloof until he loses his cellphone and she lends him some money. Nana later invites Haofeng to dinner with her and Xiao, and at the end of a drunken evening, the three of them end up back at her apartment, a privilege never granted to her quasi-boyfriend before.
It’s a soulful meeting place, with DP Yu Jing-Pin’s camera approaching the faces of all three characters to explore their loneliness as Xiao picks up a guitar and sings a sweet, melancholic love song with an emotional nudity rarely seen in Chinese. is seen. movies.
When Haofeng misses his flight to Shanghai, Nana and Xiao encourage him to stay for a few days. A lot of The breaking ice implies that Chen observes the subtle shifts in dynamics between the three of them during this period. Haofeng gently comes out of his shell and sleeps with Nana, who shares her broken dream with him. Xiao is aware of what is happening, but he registers it all without drama, keeps his place in the triangle and swallows all the pain he feels. Sex doesn’t really change much between Nana and Haofeng either.
There are poignant scenes that don’t so much propel the story as deepen our acquaintance with the characters, both as pensive individuals and as a collective unit formed more by accident than by design. They stroll along the North Korean border fence, visit a zoo, try to steal a bookstore, get lost in the high corridors of an ice maze.
The soft rhythms of Hoping Chen and Soo Mun Thye’s montage and the shimmering parts of Singaporean musician Kin Leonn’s score make these loose, free-flowing episodes thoroughly enjoyable, even as they subtly hint at the fact that none of the three are friends. really belongs in this strange, in many ways strange place.
In the beautiful final act, they take a trip through the Changbai Mountains, with the goal of seeing Heaven Lake, a breathtaking body of water in a volcanic crater that straddles the border between China and North Korea. Chen sets the stage for catharsis, with deteriorating weather conditions affecting their journey. But instead, the film takes a graceful foray into folklore, art, and even a touch of magical realism that deeply touches all three of them.
Rich in feeling but never emotionally emphatic, The breaking ice has an uncluttered narrative simplicity that is reflected in the shooting style and nicely offset by the nuanced complexity of the relationships. The closing notes of hope and renewal are beautiful.