The Breaking Ice
The unusual lull period is here to stay for the rest of the week and it has presented me with an opportunity to tick a few films off my watchlist. And I did wish to return to the list of foreign films submitted to the Academy Awards this year wherein I picked the film The Breaking Ice which was Singapore’s Official Submission to the Academy Awards this year. Now while the film did not make it to the top 15 films this year(needless to say, not in the top 5 as well), it did not deter me into opting to watch the film without knowing what to expect.
The period of the pandemic was a traumatic period for most of us with the death of our near and dear ones. But more importantly, it did affect the mental health of people, some of who may continue to stay depressed with reasons attributed to loss of business, loss of loved ones or simply being left behind and having to deal with this big bad world. It was recently that I had watched the Hindi film Kho Gaye Hum Kahan which was a Gen Z film on Friendship set in the digital age. But if you were to take the concept of friendship(new found or otherwise) and set it against the backdrop of the pandemic, then the result that you get is The Breaking Ice. So then does The Breaking Ice manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
The Breaking Ice follows the story three Gen Z folks who get consumed with each other and form an unlikely bond in a world post COVID yet filled with anxiety and depression. The story here is layered and nuanced that almost allows the film to thaw with its underlying set of emotions and equations that are less dramatic and reek of acceptance. And this is what fills the drama with bouts of melancholy and pathos that drives the narrative against the era of the pandemic. This might be a story of addressing depression and sorrow but also is a story of hope and revival in many ways. The screenplay standing at a shade under a 100 minutes is crisp and taut while dealing with a lot of shades that are essentially unsaid in the larger scheme of things.
The drama opens with the quick introduction of the characters featuring Nana who is a tour guide in the small town of Yanji, north of China and within shouting distance of North Korea. The setting of the drama paints a grim picture with the onset of snow that provides no respite and is a bleak reality of life post COVID. Nana often wears a charming smile while dealing with her visitors and completely switching off post work with a view to abandon her job and town, something that she doesn’t enjoy doing. She often ends her assigned trip by stopping by at a restaurant run by Xiao with whom she shares an on-off flirty relationship. Xiao is dealing with issues of his own having run away from his place to assist his uncle and aunt with the restaurant business. The third wheel in this saga is Hao, a man of few words working with a Financial firm in Shanghai while suffering from depression. Now while his state isn’t clear, you are aware of the latter after he continues to avoid calls from his therapy center by stating that they have the wrong number. A chance encounter ensues where the two worlds collide while the trio form an unlikely bond.
The proceedings are nuanced and unhurried while completely relying on the coming of age dynamics between the trio to fuel the narrative. And the dynamics essentially shift in the most subtle manner in what is a love triangle in the purest form. Through the course of the events, we get to know that Xiao has feelings for Nana, something that the latter avoids with a case in point being the scene at the lounge wherein Xiao tries to unsuccessfully kiss Nana who stops him. Yet, both Xiao and Nana accept their dynamics with the entry of Hao with whom Nana shares a casual but an intimate bond. So even when Xiao gets to know about it, there is a sense of resentment but the drama is absolutely still wherein he doesn’t emote. This, while Nana hugs Xiao in a bid to stop him from leaving from her life.
Hao and Xiao share a cordial bond themselves which is devoid of tension arising due to Nana. They are comfortable to share the room for the night and respect each other’s spaces with respect to Nana. Yet it is Hao who takes a liking for the new found place that he had only visited to attend a wedding, contrary to the fact that Xiao and Nana find it as a prison and wish to escape from their respective realities. In other words, every character is dealing with depression arising from their past while trying to escape their respective realities.
The drama is essentially about friendship and bonding between the trio that accentuates during their shoplifting encounters or a trip that they take to Heaven Lake on a mountain. The trip however was symbolic of how we don’t necessarily obtain things the way we like them in the wake that the trio had to return following the adverse weather conditions. The weather in itself was symbolic of their psyche with atleast two of the three characters being suicidal at various junctures of the drama before common sense prevails. The ending of the film was symbolic of this very fact that it is important to hang in there while the weather would change while also emphasizing on the point that while escaping from our realities might be easy, it is returning to our worlds that is hard but more beneficial in the long run. The screenplay is wonderfully penned and shall gently tug the strings of your heart.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational but sparingly used without compromising on its underlying themes. The music is melancholic and often situational while almost resorting to flat notes that represent the mood of the drama. The BGM accentuates this very mood while being gently aware of the underlying layer of gloom, and not intending to manipulate the thoughts or feelings of the viewers. The cinematography captures some breathtaking shots of the snow capped landscape of Yanji that is symbolic of the mood of almost of us post the pandemic. Yet, the title is synonymous in gving us hope that things will be better while thawing the suppressed feelings inside us represented by some wonderful frames in the most literal translation. The editing is crisp and sharp. Director Anthony Chen aesthetically utilizing his emaculate production design in weaving a gentle little tale of love and friendship with bouts of melancholy and loneliness. There is a genuine sense of attention to his craft that paints a picture of resentment and hope, both of which are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. And his credibility also lies in being empathetic towards the character dynamics between the trio that always was met with an organic touch. The direction is excellent here.
The performances are wonderful in what is essentially a three character drama. Qu Chuxiao as Xiao delivers a delicate act of compassion and resentment in the most understated manner possible. His suppressed feelings never really surface but his heartfelt act gently allows you space to empathize with him. Zhou Dongyu as Nana is brilliant in her act as well, presenting herself to the world with a smile while fighting a lonely battle of survival within her. And it is this virtue that she utilizing in trying to escape from her reality while being subtly vulnerable along the way. Liu Haoran as Hao is the only character that showcases his psyche in the purest form to the viewers from the beginning. His depressive state is briefly overcome with his acquaintance with Xiao and Nana but in the heart of hearts, he does know that this is a passing phase while he would continue to be lonely post it. Yet, he does respect his equation with the duo only to take a backseat towards the end and quietly return to his reality. This was an outstanding act while being really heartfelt along the way.
Singapore’s Official Entry to the Academy Awards this year(not in the Top 15), The Breaking Ice is a bittersweet love triangle of hope, despair and melancholy set against the background of the pandemic that makes for a beautifully poignant watch. Highly Recommended!