Black Coal, Thin Ice

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Black Coal, Thin Ice
Black Coal, Thin Ice Poster.jpg
Directed by Diao Yinan
Produced by Vivian Qu
Screenplay by Diao Yinan
Starring Liao Fan
Gwei Lun-Mei
Wang Xuebing
Release dates
  • 12 February 2014 (2014-02-12) (Berlin IFF)
  • 21 March 2014 (2014-03-21) (China)
Running time
106 mins
Country China
Language Mandarin
Box office US$16,460,000[1]

Black Coal, Thin Ice (Chinese: 白日焰火; pinyin: Bai Ri Yan Huo; literally: "Daylight Fireworks") is a 2014 Chinese thriller film written and directed by Diao Yinan, and produced by Vivian Qu. The film won the Golden Bear award at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.[2]


In one of the medium-sized cities of Heilongjiang Province, 1999, the dismembered parts of a human start to appear in shipments of coal, prompting a detective named Zhang (Liao Fan) to investigate. The dead man is identified as a coal worker named Liang, according to an identification badge next to the remains. A shoot-out happens when the police try to interview a suspect, and all people involved besides Zhang and his partner Wang are mortally wounded. The case is considered closed and the ashes of Liang are given to his widow Wu (Gwei Lun-Mei), an employee at Rong Rong Laundry. Liang buries the ashes at the base of a tree just outside Rong Rong.

By 2004, Zhang has quit the police force and become a drunken security guard, having been traumatized by the prior events. During a chance encounter with Wang, Zhang learns that two additional murders have happened with the same modus operandi. The common thread is that both of these men had dated Wu at some point. Zhang feels intrigued and begins to investigate. He becomes a frequent customer of Rong Rong Laundry and tries to follow Wu at night, but she easily detects him. One day, the owner of the store, Rong Rong (Wang Jingchun), explains to Zhang that he employs Wu out of sympathy, even though she doesn't do her job properly. In fact, five years before, Wu had damaged a highly expensive jacket, although a few days later the jacket's owner stopped complaining and disappeared.

Zhang confers with Wang and learns that the two recent victims were both wearing ice-skates when their bodies were recovered. A short while later, Zhang tries to make friends with Wu, and they go ice-skating together at an outdoor rink. Wang is secretly following the pair when he notices that a truck driver is also following them. He goes after the truck driver, but while arresting him, the truck driver murders him using the blades of a pair of ice-skates as a weapon. The murder of his former partner makes Zhang even more determined. He returns to the ice skating rink and pages Liang Zhijun (the 1st murder victim from 1999), then pursues a man who seems to react to the name.

Zhang starts to follow Liang Zhijun around, as now he knows that he faked his own death. While following Liang, Zhang watches him drop more body parts into passing tenders that are delivering coal. Zhang confronts Wu regarding his suspicions that Liang, is in fact, alive. Wu tells confirms that Liang is alive and that he's been following her since 1999 and killing any man with which she's involved. She says that Liang faked his own death because he accidentally killed a man during a robbery.

Zhang gets Wu to help the police catch Liang. She reveals his location and arranges to meet with him one last time. They meet and decide sometime later to go out to buy cigarettes. When they leave the room, the cops give chase and eventually kill Liang.

The police ask Wu for some of Liang's ashes so that they can confirm that he is the man that was killed. She says that she threw the ashes in a river, which makes Zhang suspicious. He returns to Rong Rong and offers the owner a large sum of money to purchase the damaged jacket that the customer abandoned. After a search for the jacket's owner, Zhang arrives at the Daylight Fireworks Club. He meets the owner of the club and asks if she recognizes the jacket. She says that her husband owned a similar jacket. She also says that he ran off with another woman and she hasn't seen him since.

Zhang suspects that Wu is the woman and goes back to Rong Rong to invite her out to a performance at an amusement park. The pair meet the next evening on a Ferris wheel. Zhang confronts Wu with his knowledge of her crime-- Wu admits to the act. The two then have sex.

Later, Wu reveals to the police that she in fact killed the owner of the jacket. When she couldn't afford to pay the value of the jacket, he forced her into an ongoing sexual relationship with him to resolve the debt. When she didn't want to engage the sexual encounters any further, she murdered him and Liang disposed of the body, faking his own death to protect her. It was in fact her victim's ashes that she buried at the base of the tree outside of Rong Rong.

Wu is arrested and Zhang returns to his previous life. As she is being escorted from her house, a drunk, implied to be Zhang, begins to shoot fireworks at her and the police from a nearby rooftop during the daylight, referencing the film's title in Chinese. The film ends as police and firefighters scale the building to force the drunk to stop.


  • Liao Fan as Zhang Zili
  • Gwei Lun-Mei as Wu Zhizhen
  • Wang Xuebing as Liang Zhijun
  • Wang Jingchun as Rong Rong
  • Yu Ailei as captain Wang
  • Ni Jingyang as Su Lijuan


The project started from Diao Yinan's idea to film a detective story.[3][4] Diao spent eight years in total to write the screenplay;[5] the final version that was filmed was the third draft. The film was then laid out into a detective film noir.[6]

Liao Fan gained 44 pounds of weight to play the film's protagonist of an alcoholic and suspended police officer.[7]


The film's English title Black Coal, Thin Ice is different from its Chinese title Bai Ri Yan Huo, which translates literally as Daylight Fireworks. Diao Yinan came across this phrase from a friend of his.[8] Diao further clarified the meaning of "daylight fireworks" as a state of sentiment or a state of condition. For him, the Chinese and English names together helped to construct the difference between reality and fantasy. In an interview he explained, "Coal and ice both belong to the realm of reality, but fireworks in daylight is something fantastic; they are the two sides of the same coin." The English name refers to the two visual clues in the film: coal as "where the body parts were found" and ice as "where the murder was committed".[9] He further explained, "when the two are combined, the reality of this murder is constructed ... while daytime fireworks is a fantasy, it is what we use to coat ourselves from the cruel side of this real world."


The film was shown in competition at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival,[10] and went on to win the Golden Bear prize for Diao.[2][11] The film's leading actor Liao Fan also won the Silver Bear for Best Actor.[12] The film received critical praises at the Berlin Film Festival, but audience reaction was more divided.[13][7]


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