The Breaking Ice Review: A Touch of Frost, An Ode to Lost Youth by Gigi Wong

Weather is always emotional and sensual. In The Breaking Ice, weather becomes an integral part of the film’s narrative. Set in a small Chinese border city of Yanji, the film’s snow-covered cityscape and icy surroundings function as a chilling metaphor for loneliness and alienation. The bleak, white landscape of Yanji brings to screen the anxiety and emotional exhaustion that young people in China embody and endure. Images of melting ice and snow drown out the growing despair among millennials and Gen Z in China who want to be released from the crush of life and work in a fast-paced society.  

Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen tells a story of three young people – Nana, Han Xiao and Haofeng – trying to escape from a world of despair that they are all trapped in. They all come to Yanji for different reasons: to run away from the past, to cope with pain and agony, and to find purpose in life. The shared yearning to break free from the mundane, quotidian life is what connects Nana, Han Xiao and Haofeng together. For the three characters, the triangulation of loss, love and lust serves as a means to navigate through their inner struggles and restlessness.  

Yanji’s shivery winter is not just an urban backdrop but a character in its own right. It tinkers with our emotions and immerses us in the psychological landscapes of three characters. The snow-covered terrain of Changbai Mountains eventually becomes a physical manifestation of Nana’s, Han Xiao’s and Haofeng’s liberation. The Breaking Ice is a poignant and absorbing ode to the lost youth in China conceived through Chen’s delicate and frosty frames. 

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