In “The Breaking Ice,” a new film written and directed by Anthony Chen, three lost 20-somethings find one another in a liminal world. The movie takes place in Yanji, a Chinese city bordering North Korea, where two languages and cultures mix in the shadows of snow-blanketed mountains.
In this icy town, Nana (Zhou Dongyu), a tour guide, crosses paths with Haofeng (Liu Haoran), a financier from Shanghai who is visiting for a wedding. She recognizes in him a melancholy that rhymes with her own, and invites him along to dinner with Xiao (Qu Chuxiao), a friend who works at a restaurant and pines after Nana.
As the three down copious drinks, ride about on Xiao’s motorcycle and engage in youthful adventures, a love triangle takes shape — though it never results in predictable conflicts. It’s as if the cold, otherworldly solitude of Yanji sublimates the characters’ unrequited desires into a deeper yearning for connection. They are grateful to have each other, even if not in the ways they really want.
The setting is rife with metaphoric potential, and it is here that Chen falters as a director. Haofeng’s depression is signaled by his habit of chewing on ice cubes and balancing dangerously on snowy cliffs; Nana repeatedly encounters reminders of her thwarted ice-skating career; and news reports of a North Korean defector appear throughout the film, provoking something in the restless Xiao.
Deployed without subtlety, these motifs weigh down a film that, in its best moments, feels as light and refreshing as a cool breeze.
The Breaking Ice
Not rated. In Mandarin and Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.