China film noir 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' wins Berlin Golden Bear

Golden moment for director and actor as Asian cinema takes starring role at Berlin festival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 8:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 5:00pm

The 64th Berlin film festival proved a resounding triumph for Asian cinema, including the Golden Bear for a Chinese noir mystery.

Bai Ri Yan Huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice) by Diao Yinan, about a washed-up ex-cop investigating grisly murders, took the highest honour, as well as the Silver Bear best actor for its star Liao Fan.

"It's really hard to believe that this dream has come true," Diao said as he accepted the trophy on Saturday night.

It was the first Chinese film to win in Berlin since Tuya De Hunshi (Tuya's Marriage) by Wang Quan'an in 2007.

Watch: Trailer for Black Coal, Thin Ice

In a remarkably strong showing for Asian contenders, the Berlinale, Europe's first major film festival of the year, gave its best actress prize to Japan's Haru Kuroki for her role as a discreet housemaid in wartime Tokyo in Yoji Yamada's The Little House.

Yamada, 82, called the film a necessary reminder of war's horrors for contemporary Japan.

Wes Anderson's historical caper The Grand Budapest Hotel - offering a nostalgic look back at pre-second world war Europe - claimed the runner-up Silver Bear grand jury prize.

Most called the prize for Black Coal, Thin Ice justified in a competition with few real standouts.

"It represents Chinese cinema, growing in aesthetic strength, that is successfully charting a new path between small films made below the censors' radar and the bombastic hero epics in a booming domestic market," Berlin's daily Der Tagesspiegel said.

The second of three Chinese films in competition, Blind Massage ( Tui Na) featuring a cast made up in part of amateur blind actors, captured a Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution for cinematographer Zeng Jian.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is set in the late 1990s in the frosty reaches of northern China and its murder mystery plot is told through enigmatic flashbacks.

Diao said his film, his third feature, bridged the gap between pure arthouse and multiplex fare. "I finally did find the right way to combine a film which has a commercial aspect but which is nonetheless art, so that it's possible to launch it in these terms," he said.

Diao said Chinese films were gaining ground in Western cinemas, thanks in part to their exposure at major festivals.

"Every time we take our films abroad it seems that there is an ever greater enthusiasm for Chinese cinema," he said.

The film has yet to be released in China but a state media report said it had received a government permit for screening, with release possible in April or May.


15 of the best at the Golden Bears

2000: Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson (US)

2001: Intimacy by Patrice Chereau (France)

2002: Bloody Sunday by Paul Greengrass (Britain/Ireland) and Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki (Japan)

2003: In This World by Michael Winterbottom (Britain)

2004: Gegen die Wand (Head-On) by Fatih Akin (Germany/Turkey)

2005: U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (Carmen In Khayelitsha) by Mark Dornford-May (South Africa)

2006: Grbavica by Jasmila Zbanic (Bosnia-Hercegovina)

2007: Tuya De Hunshi (Tuya's Marriage) by Wang Quan'an (China)

2008: Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) by Jose Padilha (Brazil/Argentina)

2009: La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow) by Claudia Llosa (Spain/Peru)

2010: Bal (Honey) by Semih Kaplanoglu (Turkey/Germany)

2011: Jodaeiye Nader Az Simin (A Separation) by Asghar Farhadi (Iran)

2012: Cesare Deve Morire (Caesar Must Die) by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Italy)

2013: Pozitia Copilului (Child's Pose) by Calin Peter Netzer (Romania)

2014: Bai Ri Yan Huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice), Diao Yinan (China)