Black Coal, Thin Ice

Original title: 白日焰火
Omnijoi Media Corporation Co., Ltd.
Boneyard Entertainment China (BEC) Limited (Hong Kong)
China Film Co., Ltd.
Jiangsu Omnijoi Movie Co., Ltd.
China/Hong Kong, China, 2014, 106 minutes, DCP, 1.85:1, Dolby 5.1, Mandarin, Crime Thriller /
Drama, Original title: 白日焰火
Official Selection: Berlin Competition
Film Specs:
Production Countrie(s): China/Hong Kong, China
Year: 2014
Language: Mandarin
Genre: Crime Thriller, Drama
Subtitle Language: English
Format: DCP
Running Time: 106 minutes
Color/Bw: Colour
Screen Ratio: 1.85:1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Frame Rate: 24fps
Sound Ratio: Dolby 5.1
Originally Shot on: Digital 4k.
Copy Right Notice: ©2014 Jiangsu Omnijoi Movie Co., Ltd. / Boneyard Entertainment
China (BEC) Ltd. (Hong Kong). All rights reserved.
Omnijoi Media Corporation Co., Ltd.
Boneyard Entertainment China (BEC) Ltd. (Hong Kong)
China Film Co., Ltd.
Jiangsu Omnijoi Movie Co., Ltd.
Daniel Jonathan VICTOR
HAN Sanping
HAN Xiaoli
DIAO Yinan
Vivian QU
WAN Juan
DIAO Yinan
DONG Jinsong
LIU Qiang
YANG Hongyu
Zhang Zili
Wu Zhizhen
Liang Zhijun
Rong Rong
Captain WANG
SU Lijuan
GWEI Lun Mei
WANG Xuebing
WANG Jingchun
YU Ailei
NI Jingyang
North China: Investigating a murder, Zhang, a Detective is badly wounded and forced
to retire. 5 years pass. More murders occur. Zhang, determined to solve the case, falls in
love with a mysterious woman, Wu Zhizhen, who seems to be connected to the victims.
Short Synopsis:
Ex-cop Zhang Zili, seriously wounded five years earlier while working on a gruesome coalplant murder case, was forced to retire from the police force due to his injuries. Five years
later, the killer strikes again, and Zhang, now a factory security guard is determined to
redeem himself and solve the case on his own. After his investigation, he discovers that all of
the victims seem to be related to a mysterious woman named Wu Zhizhen who works in a dry
cleaning shop. Zhang ends up falling in love with her, but in uncovering the truth finds
himself in great danger.
Long Synopsis:
In 1999 a gruesome killing and mutilation takes place in a small town in northern China. A
worker from a coal plant has been murdered, and the severed parts of his body are found in
various locations across the province, hundreds of kilometers apart. The police investigation
soon uncovers multiple suspects, but the attempt to bring them in for questioning takes a
heavy toll; two police officers are killed and one is wounded.
The officer that was wounded, Zhang Zili, is forced to retire and take on what he feels is a
demeaning job as a security guard in a factory. In 2004, as a group of uncannily similar
murders comes to light, he is the first to realize that all the victims had been in a relationship
with one woman, Wu Zhizhen. With the help of an old colleague on the force, Zhang decides
to solve the mystery, hoping to turn his life around in the process. Wu Zhizhen works in a
laundry shop, and Zhang poses as a customer to find a way of approaching her. Slowly he
gets to know her and begins to court her. What he hasn‟t counted on is that he finds himself
falling in love with her …
One bitterly cold winter night, he has an epiphany. Nothing is as it seemed, and he is in
serious danger. Justice will eventually win out, but innocence and guilt are not so easy to
assess. And what about what he feels in his heart?
Detailed Synopsis (contains spoilers)
Summer, 1999. A shocking crime surfaces in a small town in northern China. A man has
been murdered and his corpse dismembered with the severed body parts found in piles of coal
in different factories across the province. The crime casts a terrible pall over the community –
rumors spread, some factories close down – and the police come under heavy pressure to
solve the mystery.
A policeman Zhang Zili has just been served divorce papers by his embittered wife when the
first important lead is found. The last piece of the dismembered body has been uncovered at a
power plant, along with bloodstained clothes and an ID card. The dead man is identified as
Liang Zhijun, a worker in a local coal plant. He was married to Wu Zhizhen, who works in a
laundry shop in town. The police soon identify two brothers, Liu Fayin and Liu Faxing, as the
prime suspects and go to arrest them. But the brothers resist arrest, and when one of them
turns out to be armed with a gun. A struggle ensues and two police detectives are killed and
the two brothers are shot to death. Zhang Zili is left with a serious gunshot wound.
Five years go by. Zhang, now divorced, has been forced by his injury to leave active service
and take a loser job as a security guard in a factory. He is single and feels that his life has lost
all meaning. He once had privileged status in the community, but now his workmates treat
him as a deadbeat. Meanwhile, the news breaks of another murder, uncannily similar to the
one five years earlier.
Zhang runs into his old colleague Wang, and they reminisce about the case that cost Zhang
his police uniform. They suddenly realize that both the old crime and the recent one have one
factor in common; both victims had relationships with the laundry worker Wu Zhizhen. The
realization triggers something latent in Zhang. Suddenly motivated to try to turn his miserable
life around, he decides to privately investigate the matter. He starts by getting to know Wu
Zhizhen, posing as a customer of the shop where she works. Wu initially shows no interest in
him, but eventually seems to warm to his overtures.
Wang notices what Zhang is doing and urges him not to get too involved, fearing that he
could become another victim. But it‟s Wang himself who is mysteriously murdered. Zhang,
all but traumatized, has a sudden encounter which makes him suspect that the murderer is
Liang Zhijun, supposedly the first victim. Zhang grows convinced that Liang is still alive and
watching Wu Zhizhen. His suspicions prompt the police to arrest Wu Zhizhen. Under
interrogation, she confirms that Liang is indeed still alive, and she looks on as the police hunt
him down and shoot him dead.
Justice having been done, Zhang and Wu Zhizhen start to move on and move forward. Zhang
tries to console and comfort her, and she grows fond of him. But then Zhang makes a
discovery which turns the whole case upside down. Nothing in the whole case was as it
seemed …
Director’s Statement
I‟ve always been a fan of detective stories, particularly those that depict the lives of ordinary
people. I‟ve long wanted to make a movie of that sort.
China today is greatly changing. Some of the things that happen seem unbelievable. Some
homicide cases, for example, seem preposterous – and yet at the same time accurate
reflections of our contemporary reality. Something seemingly insignificant and colorless can
spark off an entire rainbow of implications.
I wanted to make a detective film depicting life in contemporary China. My aim was not
only to investigate a mystery and find out the truth about the people involved, but also to
create a true representation of our new reality. The film revolves around a horrific homicide
and its elusive perpetrator. The process of investigation highlights an individual at war with
himself and his road to self-realization and redemption. Indecision, cowardice, treachery, and
the impulse to surrender to social norms …These are weaknesses which come from the
negativity and passivity of the human heart. They may cloud an individual‟s mind, but they
can also become the source of humanity.
DIAO Yinan (Writer/Director) Diao Yinan is a leading figure in China‟s avant-garde
theater, and has also written numerous screenplays. He graduated with a degree in literature
and screenwriting from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing. His avant-garde plays
include: A Fastrunner or Nowhere to Hide, Pavel Korchigan, and Comrade Ah Q. His
screenplays for other directors include: Spicy Love Soup, Shower, All the Way and Eternal
Moment. As an actor, he starred in Yu Likwai‟s independent feature All Tomorrow’s Parties,
which premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes Film Festival in 2003.
He wrote and directed his debut feature Uniform in 2003; the film went on to win the
Dragons & Tigers Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival and was released in
several countries. He wrote and directed his second feature, Night Train in 2007; it premiered
in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival the same year, winning critical
acclaim for its minimalist style and it secured distribution throughout Europe. In 2014 he
wrote and directed his third feature Black Coal, Thin Ice.
Vivian QU (Producer) An important figure in the Chinese independent film circle,
Vivian Qu has produced such award-winning films as Night Train (2007, Cannes Un Certain
Regard), Knitting (2008, Cannes Director‟s Fortnight) and Longing for the Rain (2013,
International Film Festival Rotterdam). In 2013 she wrote and directed her own debut feature
Trap Street, winning rave reviews at the Venice and Toronto festivals. One reviewer called it
“a thought-provoking gem of the Chinese New Wave”.
WAN Juan (Producer) Wan Juan is the Executive General Manager of the Jiangsu
Omnijoi Movie Co., Ltd.. She started out producing and directing documentaries, including
Mei Lanfang and Kunqu Opera through Six Centuries. She represented the Omnijoi Media
Corporation as co-producer and/or associate producer on the films Dragon, White Vengeance
and The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom.
SHEN Yang (Co- Producer) Shen Yang is the former Deputy Program Director of the
Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF). There, she created SIFF‟s Asian New Talent
Award, the SIFFORUM, China Pitch and Catch and the International Student Shorts Award;
all of which became central to the festival‟s development and its ongoing support of regional
film culture. Some 17 films have been successfully incubated through these programs. She
was a member of the nomination committee for the 55th and 56th Asian Pacific Film
Festivals; and served on the jury for the 4th Xian International Film Festival; she was the
keynote speaker at the forum of the 21st Tokyo International Film Festival. She has planned,
written and directed TV documentary series which, with more than 100 episodes, introduced
a century of global film history – including Chinese film history and the history of animated
films around the world.
LIAO Fan (as Zhang Zili) Born in Hunan Province, Liao Fan is a prolific and versatile
actor who has appeared in both mainstream and independent films. His long list of credits
includes: Chicken Poets (2002, the only film by the celebrated theater director Meng Jinghui),
Baober in Love (2004, directed by Li Shaohong), The Game of Killing (2004, directed by
Agan), Green Hat (2005, directed by Liu Fendou, “Best Film” at the Tribeca Festival),
Gimme Kudos (2005, directed by Huang Jianxin), Curiosity Kills the Cat (2006, directed by
Zhang Yibai), Assembly (2007, directed by Feng Xiaogang), Ocean Flame (2008, directed by
Liu Fendou, premiered in Cannes Un Certain Regard), If You Are the One II (2010, directed
by Feng Xiaogang), Let the Bullets Fly (2011, directed by the actor Jiang Wen), Showtime
(2011, directed by Stanley Kwan), Beginning of the Great Revival (2011, directed by Huang
Jianxin), Love on Credit (2011, directed by Chen Zhengdao), Love is not Blind (2011,
directed by Teng Huatao) and CZ12 (Chinese Zodiac, 2012, directed by Jackie Chan). He
was awarded the “Best Actor” prize at the Singapore Film Festival for his performance in
Green Hat, and was nominated for a Golden Horse Award in Taiwan for his performance in
Ocean Flame.
GWEI Lun Mei (as Wu Zhizhen) Born in 1983, Gwei Lun Mei is a Taiwan-based
actress. She was catapulted into her acting career while still in high school when director Yi
Zhiyan picked her for the leading role in his movie Blue Gate Crossing. Soon after, singer
Jay Zhou cast her as the female lead in his movie Secret (2007). She has since taken on
widely contrasted roles in two films by the Hong Kong director Tsui Hark; a rock singer in
All About Women (2008) and a tribal princess in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2012). Her
role in the Taiwan box-office smash Gf/Bf (Girlfriend/Boyfriend) won her the “Best Actress”
prize in the Golden Horse Awards and at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival.
WANG Xuebing (as Liang Zhijun) Wang Xuebing was born in Xinjiang Uighur
Autonomous Region and graduated from the Acting Department of the Central Drama
Academy in Beijing in 1994. His career began to take off when he appeared in the hugely
popular TV series Eternal Moment, and his excellent work in another TV series, Don’t Talk
to Strangers (2001), catapulted him to stardom. His subsequent film work has consolidated
his fame in China and proved him an exceptionally versatile actor. His credits have included
Call for Love, Beginning of the Great Revival, Eternal Moment, The Lost Bladesman and The
Silent War. He turned director to make The Brave Tin Soldier and won the Directing Style
Award at the 24th Harbin Film Festival.
WANG Jingchun (as RongRong) Wang Jingchun graduated from the Shanghai
Drama Academy and is an actor with the Shanghai Film Studio Theater. He has demonstrated
his talents as a resourceful character actor in various TV series and films, including Love, The
Zodiac Mystery and Wang Xiaoshuai‟s11 Flowers. He won China‟s Lily Award for “Best
Actor” in April 2010 for his performance in Wild Rose, and recently won the “Best Actor”
prize at the 26th Tokyo Film Festival for his performance in To Live and Die in Ordos (2013).
He will next be seen in Ann Hui‟s film about the writer Xiao Hong, The Golden Era (2014).
Omnijoi Media Corporation Co., Ltd.
Established in 2005, the Omnijoi Media Corporation has become a leader in China‟s media
and entertainment industries. Its areas of operation include television and movie production,
film distribution and operating movie theaters. It has invested in and produced more than 30
TV series including Changes and Brother’s Happiness; and more than 20 films including
Teddy Chen‟s Bodyguards and Assassins and Jiang Wen‟s Let the Bullets Fly. Omnijoi
Movie Theaters has become the largest cinema chain in the Jiangsu local market. At the end
of 2013, it had 20 movie theaters and more than 300 screens in Jiangsu, Sichuan, Shanxi and
Hubei provinces.
Boneyard Entertainment China (BEC) Ltd (Hong Kong)
Boneyard Entertainment China (BEC) Limited was incorporated in Hong Kong in 2010 and
is dedicated to the planning, investment and production of films and TV series with Chinese
elements. Its mission is to invest in and produce Chinese- and English-language films and TV
programs, targeting audiences in China, the USA and other countries. Its parent company;
Boneyard Entertainment Limited was incorporated in New York in 1996 and works to plan,
finance and produce films and TV programs. Boneyard Entertainment Limited raises and
manages three funds to finance film and TV production. It has planned and invested in 15
films and TV programs including Billy Bob Thornton‟s Sling Blade (Oscar for Best Adapted
Screenplay), Bob Gosse‟s Niagara, Niagara (Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the 1997 Venice
International Film Festival), and Hal Hartley‟s Henry Fool (best screenplay award in the
Palme d'Or competition, Cannes).
Jiangsu Omnijoi Movie Co., Ltd.
Established in 2006, the Jiangsu Omnijoi Movie Co., Ltd. is an affiliated agency of the
Omnijoi Media Corporation Co., Ltd., committed to investment in and production and
distribution of films. It is an integral part of Omnijoi Media‟s full-fledged industrial chain
covering television and movie production, distribution, and movie theater operations.
Omnijoi has been active in the upper-end business of the film industry and has been investing
in and produced more than 20 blockbuster features including City of Life and Death, The
Founding of a Republic, Bodyguards and Assassins, Let The Bullets Fly, Beginning of the
Great Revival, China 1911, Dragon, White Vengeance, The Guillotines, Gone with the
Bullets and most recently Black Coal, Thin Ice.
Q&A with writer-director Diao Yinan
Was your script inspired by some real-life event, or, if it’s complete fiction, what made you
think of the dismembered and scattered body which opens the story?
Hardly any story is completely fictional. When you create something, fragments of real life
that lie buried in the back of your mind will inevitably come to the surface. You could even
say that the process of making any kind of art is like putting memories to work.
There‟s a lot going on in China these days, some of it more absurd than anything you might
find in a novel or film. It‟s not unusual for artists to find that kind of real-life absurdity
getting tangled up with the truths they‟re reaching for in their work. The ways that truth and
absurdity get tangled together open up endless possibilities, which I find very attractive and
On the other hand, I‟ve always been captivated by the vagaries of human nature which film
noir tends to highlight. I‟m intrigued by the links between brutal violence and dream-like
behaviour. The act of dismembering and scattering a corpse, or of killing someone with the
blade of an ice-skate … what kind of person is capable of committing such atrocious acts?
This film gave me a channel to explore such thoughts.
You’ve set the film in a provincial city, not very sophisticated or cosmopolitan. Why?
I like small towns and out-of-the-way places more than big cities. Change takes place more
slowly in provincial places, and the spaces there allow present-day and past realities to coexist side-by-side. I find that this makes memory a more flexible asset, and that, in turn,
makes it easier for me to explore my themes. If I‟d set out to make a Gothic thriller, I would
have chosen a desolate space, somewhere decadent, mysterious and savage. But my actual
choice of setting had nothing to do with small-town sociology. I‟m telling a horrific murder
story, and it demands a certain kind of setting to underline its truth. I don‟t think this story
would have worked in a big-city, cosmopolitan setting. In addition, I chose the innate validity
of life rather than a compilation of facts. There are many places in China which have the
innately surreal quality I needed. I feel lucky that I was so spoilt for choice!
The film looks and feels like a generic thriller but it has some noticeably non-generic
characteristics, such as the narrative elisions and the large number of carefully-framed
wide-angle shots. How do you strike a balance between personal style and the demands of
Before making the film, I thought about The Maltese Falcon, watched The Third Man several
times, and noted the brilliant extended take with which Orson Welles opened Touch of Evil. I
said to myself “Okay, film offers numerous ways of expression, you should just follow your
instincts while shooting. As long as you express yourself in your own way, you won‟t merely
reproduce what‟s been done before”. I love filming on a tripod. I like fixed frames (but not
long tracking shots). I love the sparks of ingenuity you find in humble silent movies. I love
black for the way it disrupts continuity and the way it bridges the gap between social reality
and surreal fantasy. I love subverting conventions, such as „logical‟ behaviour, the clear-cut
line between good and evil, or easily-grasped characters with obvious motives. These are the
„likes‟ that I wanted to deploy and re-examine.
To put it simply, even genre films shouldn‟t be prisoners of their own conventions. Personal
style isn‟t something fixed, it‟s more of a matter of choices and impulses as they arise in each
individual film. When you look at films by cinema‟s great masters, you always find
something inexplicable, or the tension between what can and cannot be explained. I hope my
own style in this film is simple and powerful – and that evasion is sometimes one of my
All of your film work has touched on the question of trust: how much we can (or should)
believe each other. Why are you drawn to this theme?
It‟s not so much about trust, more about how we enter someone else‟s territory. Police
investigations are a case in point. When the police enter a situation, the actual truth and the
apparent truth begin to mirror each other. The police may feel they‟ve captured the actual
truth, but maybe they haven‟t. The process of searching and capturing, often very stressful,
generates dramatic tension. Our own empirical experience tells us that the mirrored gap
between appearance and reality will to some extent affect how we „trust‟ each other; in
extreme cases, it can even drive us to despair. But when you‟re making a film, the gap
between the way things seem and the way they actually are coincides with the way a narrative
builds to its climax. This all sounds very analytical, but it‟s really just a question of
effectively engaging the viewer‟s emotions.
The film’s Chinese and English titles are very different. The English title obviously refers
to two central visual motifs, coal (black) and ice (white). The Chinese title (which means
“Fireworks in Daylight”) relates to a scene in the film but also suggests something more
metaphorical – especially since so much of the film is set at night. Do the two titles point to
different aspects of the film?
The difference between the two titles reflects the difference between reality and dreams. Coal
and ice are real; fireworks in daylight are surreal. They‟re two sides of the same coin. Black
coal is where the dismembered body parts are found, and white ice is where a homicide took
place; taken together, they establish the facts of the murder case. If you haven‟t yet seen the
film, the English title proposes a sharp contrast, but that sharpness ferments into something
else as you watch the film and see how the facts of the case fit together. All of that helps to
strengthen the film‟s realistic aspects. “Fireworks in Daylight” is a kind of fantasy; it‟s the
kind of catharsis which people use to shield themselves from the harsher aspects of the world
around them. In using this title, I‟m obviously suggesting that Chinese people today are in
dire need of that kind of catharsis. I‟ve tried to avoid the trap of sentimental humanism, and I
didn‟t want the film to offer nothing more than a cruel twist on the theme of romantic
attachments. But I did want to leave a strong impression! What I‟m trying to get at here is our
ability to make moral choices. I‟m calling for people to be prepared to take decisive actions.
When they do that, they‟re making choices – rather than blindly following orders and failing
to question what they‟re told.
The fate of your protagonist Zhang Zili (demoted to the rank of security guard, losing his
police uniform) inevitably reminds us of your debut film Uniform, in which a young man
pretends to be a policeman. Is there in fact any connection?
All of my characters wander on the border between living and dreaming. Their lives are
precarious; you could say they cheat their way into life. I sympathize with them greatly. I try
to help them stand up for themselves, and that‟s the inner drive that powers my theater work
too. For me, they‟re almost alter egos, representatives of my daydreams. They‟re a bit selfish,
a bit cynical, a bit lonely and crafty. I have no idea where they‟re going or where they‟ll end
up. Anyhow, they don‟t demand to be acknowledged. They‟re captives of their own mindsets.
They live in worlds of their own.
-- Interview by Tony Rayns (January 2014)
Production Company Details:
Jiangsu Omnijoi Movie Co., Ltd.
Phone : +86 25 84735509
Fax : +86 25 84735509
Address: Room 1708, CITIC Mansion, No.348 Zhongshan Road, Xuanwu District, Nanjing
City 210008, China
SHEN Yang, [email protected],
+86 13816060326
WAN Juan, [email protected],
+86 13261688868
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