Chinese directors master Nordic noir, shoot-'em-up Western

Thu Feb 13, 2014 10:13am EST
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By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - An overweight detective with a drinking problem and a fresh divorce stumbles through the snow to catch a killer armed with ice-skates, showing China has no need to envy the Nordics when it comes to crime in a cold climate.

A city lawyer rides through the desert on horseback with a satellite navigator to rescue a girl from a deadly smuggler. Not Arizona but China again, showing it may have something to teach Quentin Tarantino when it comes to spaghetti Westerns.

The thriller "Black Coal, Thin Ice" and the darkly funny "No Man's Land" are among three Chinese films competing for the top Golden Bear award at this year's Berlin film festival.

Berlin jury member Tony Leung, star of arthouse hits such as Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" and Hong Kong thrillers like the triad movie "Infernal Affairs", said Western audiences would be seeing "more and more Chinese movies".

"I think Chinese cinema, the Chinese film industry is growing globally in the past 10 years, and I think people are getting interested in our Chinese culture," said Leung.

The juxtaposition of Western genres with Chinese culture is part of the allure of "Black Coal" and "No Man's Land", though the challenge of making movies there is also clear. Director Ning Hau said "No Man's Land" took four years to reach the screen partly because censors demanded so many changes.

Neither film is overtly political. "Black Coal" depicts life in northern China in bleak detail, like the 2003 film "Blind Shaft", which also mixed coal and murder and was banned from Chinese cinemas.

The local cops hunting a serial killer are sympathetic, if flawed, human beings, who even take a horse in from the cold when it starts to snow.   Continued...

Cast members Gwei Lun-Mei and Wang Xuebing (R) pose during a photocall to promote the movie "Black Coal, Thin Ice" at the 64th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 12, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Peter