It’s cold on the outside and colder on the inside. The need to wear a jacket comes in handy to warm the body, but the soul needs another medium. Whether it is a heart-to-heart conversation or a literal cold beverage is a question to ponder. Nevertheless, the path of the coldness has a few tricks to lure its buddy to make things right. Welcoming the star of the film, the Ice. Anthony Chen’s latest film, The Breaking Ice, has a distinctive way of using ice as a metaphor to express diverse thoughts and endurance. The film has three main characters, each facing a hurdle to overcome their own miseries. Each of the characters covers the dimension of ice from different perspectives.
The Tough Ice is awarded right to Han Xiao, who is lost in his own frustrated zone. Xiao is an adult man who helps around his aunt’s restaurant, which is his permanent job. Xiao seems to lead his life for courtesy sake, without a proper ambition in mind. A mundane breeze surrounds him, and he takes the coldness out of his zone by smoking heavily. Xiao moves around using his modern, big bike, which sets him to be ‘cool’ as a probable element to shine. However, he displays strength through his armed body language, which keeps him committed to his current progression. He has a love crush on Nana, a girl who visits his aunt’s restaurant for work purposes.
Nana is the Talented Ice who rarely reveals her hidden secrets. She works as a tour guide and agent to bring tourists around Yanji, China’s northern border. She is pleasant at work, but there is a bugging gist that controls her peace. Nana carries the weight of being responsible for flourishing her career whenever possible. She keeps trying to fit everything into her life mold, but something keeps pushing against her. An impromptu meeting with a stranger causes a shift in her perspective.
The stranger is a strange individual named Li Haofeng, who is the Troubled Ice here. Haofeng is an introvert who deletes any form of comfort from his thoughts. A scene of Haofeng being reluctant to answer contradictory questions from his friends in a wedding ceremony is perfect evidence. However, his self-preservation has more depth, pointing to his mental health. He takes the pain out of his plight through ice biting, a repetitive move that keeps him calm.
A strange journey filled with happiness, misery, and realization begins with an unexpected encounter of these three wandering individuals. The film was shot during the pandemic era, which was brought in as an integral part of the characters’ history and development. Businesses that were affected due to the pandemic influenced the career pathways of the film’s three main protagonists.
Meanwhile, an ice-breaking session brings them together through night walks, alcohol, and sleepovers, which liberate them to a pampering massage of the mind. The attempt to step their foot away from solace opens their heart and mind fully to discover the little joys of life. Each character uses the medium of song to express their inner pain silently through hearing and singing. There is an inclusion of sexual tension between the trios that shapes a love triangle, similar to 3-Iron by Kim Ki Duk.
Love in the form of desperation by Xiao to woo Nana took multiple attempts. Love through inner connections between Nana and Haofeng leads to intimacy but never overwhelms their personal space. The craft of minimizing the possessiveness that lies between the characters allows the screenplay of the film to speak freely with the audience.
The film also talks about loneliness and the absence of a driving force to embrace the blessings of living. The dialogue, “I’ve been away for so long, sometimes I’m not sure where home is,” uttered by Nana, exhibits her inner battle of acquiring a shoulder to lean upon. Haofeng’s deep wailing in the bar to let out his misery surpasses his shyness instantly. Xiao’s statement of comparing the unworthiness of his life to the reward given to capture a burglar raises eyebrows. At one point, the film indirectly informs the audience that the trios are heading towards a similar direction, which sounds almost fated– a direction that has a trail of hollowness within the laughter and silence.
The landscape of Yunji as the film’s backdrop has a thorough impact on the film’s pace as well. Cinematographer Yu Jing-Pin magically takes the cozy comfort out of the cinematic lens and brings icy, cold mist to the screen. Ironically, the mist connects to the trio’s emotional attachments, producing an invisible coldness within the audience. The underlying fact hiding behind the closet is the confusion that dwells with their identities. What is the purpose of surviving in a harsh world? Why do we need to wear a mask to disguise ourselves? What is my real identity? Questions get answered slowly but surely through mysteries and expeditions. The mysterious story of the Tiger and the Bear, told by Hoafeng, wholeheartedly adds to the influence of folklore.
After the mother-son dysfunctionality through ‘Ilo Ilo’ and a teacher-student love in ‘Wet Season,’ Anthony Chen gives us a fresh and icy tale of affection. The need to attain diversion comes unannounced to everyone at some point in life. Sometimes, it arrives as a message in the form of a tale that could reveal the peak of distraction. It can also camouflage itself as an alarm to wake a memory from its slumber. Or, it could be a mind voice pushing you off your boundaries. In order to absorb changes, care and love have to be experienced, promoting self-affection. The Breaking Ice may have broken many ‘closeted ices’ along the way, but the blizzard of realization stands strong and mighty.