“The Breaking Ice” (“Ran dong”)


Metacritic (4/10), Letterboxd (2/5), Imdb.com (4/10), TMDN.com (4/10)

No matter how hard a film tries to convey a profound message through imagery and symbolism, if it doesn’t have a cohesive narrative underlying that undertaking, it’s not likely to succeed. Such is the case with this latest offering from writer-director Anthony Chen, who tells the story of three diverse but disconnected twenty-somethings (Dongyu Zhou, Haoran Liu, Chuxiao Qu) seeking to find their way in life in the northern Chinese city of Yanji, not far from the North Korean border. Set in the dead of winter, this unlikely trio comes together through impromptu (and, in all honesty, seemingly improbable) circumstances, quickly and inexplicably becoming bound by a suspect sense of chemistry. After coming together, they subsequently embark on a carefree weekend of dining, drinking, dancing and wrestling with sexual tension, intermixed with bouts of largely unexplained tear-laden ennui. The film consequently relies on implication and nuance to carry it forward, but the subtlety here is so subdued much of the time that it’s challenging to figure out exactly what the director is striving for. By contrast, in other cases, the picture’s patently obvious imagery is more than a little heavy-handed, as seen, for example, in its pervasive footage of the frozen winter landscape, a reflection of its “coldness of the world” theme. But what does it all add up to? That’s hard to say. The result is a release that relies more on mood than substance, with much of it implausible, inconsequential, somewhat unfathomable and not especially engaging. To its credit, “The Breaking Ice” is gorgeously filmed, providing viewers with a look at an unfamiliar locale, backed by an atmospheric original score and carried forward by a trinity of capable performances. However, I came away from this feature largely unmoved and notably disinterested, the whole affair having left me cold (pun intended). To me, films that continually reach but never grasp just aren’t worth the time – or the praise that they’re undeservedly lavished with – and this is clearly one of them.