As one could glean from the pseudo-nym used by Frozen's co-writer and director -- Wu Ming, meaning "no name" in Chinese -- this realist drama's strongest trait is its elusiveness. This true story of a young performance artist driven to kill himself as a last "work" is much of the reason for Wu Ming's assumed anonymity. Indeed, while independently produced films are illegal in China, Frozen's radical edge is its most remarkable facet.
At the outset, Qi Lei (Jia Hongshen), a placid student and sometime performance artist, is introduced while enthusing to a friend about the nearing of his "ice burial," in which he will melt a huge block of ice with the heat of his body. Qi is cool (in the American sense), plaintive, detached, but wanting to make a difference in the social scheme of Beijing. While the harsh world of dependency leaves him fatigued at each day's end, Qi Lei's personal status quo prods him to greater heights of performance art.
Wu Ming deftly charges Frozen with a psychological tautness, by way of a series of mostly silent, long scenes. She/he breaks its narrative almost entirely into disarming, artful vignettes charting the young man's disintegration. Qi Lei's feelings of ennui and contempt, conveyed almost entirely without dialogue, keep this docudrama riveting.
These silent scenes speak volumes on alienation, and convey a sense of horror reminiscent of Bergman at his creepiest. Actor Jia Hongshen is nicely unaffected, and so works as a tool for the film's dizzying trips -- one through a mental institution and another to a Western-style underground club where a band plays punk rock. Here Qi Lei's course becomes uncomfortably clear.
Ultimately though, it is impossible to determine the exact reasons for the protagonist's actions. To his or her credit, Wu Ming makes the young man's motive far less important than the course of his psychic meltdown. Still, Frozen speaks as much to the Western drift of nihilism as to any exotic wish for a modern-day utopia.
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