After a brutal murder with a familiar feel occurs, an ex-cop and his former partner decide to once again pursue an investigation of the murders that ended their careers and shamed them. Zhang Zili is a former detective turned alcoholic working as a security guard when his old serial killer case suddenly seems reopened. A connection between the old murders and the new one is a beautiful and mysterious dry cleaning assistant, who very quickly infatuates Zhang.
‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’ is a suspense film with a Film Noir twist. Unfortunately, the plot plays second fiddle to the feel of the film. Dark shots, empty streets, some twisted humor, and a nihilistic China are given the spotlight here and they perform beautifully. The only problem is that none of the characters or the plot have much substance or believability.
Large amounts of the film feel forced or just do not make sense. The relationships between the characters are awkward and unbelievable, which creates a domino effect for pretty much every other aspect of the plot. It is rare that a film’s atmosphere is able to save a film and make it watchable, but ‘Black Coal’ is an exception. It just eats and breaths the noir genre so well. Darkness, shadow, and a femme fatale; it is not quite the ‘Maltese Falcon’ but it’s got a great feel. Since the story is a pretty big letdown this movie will not please everyone, nevertheless it is worth a watch if you find yourself enthralled by noir films and clever direction.