In 2021, a technology of disillusioned youth in China determined to step off the hamster wheel and “lie flat” on the bottom. Crushed by overbearing workloads with no long-term reward within the type of job safety or house possession, younger individuals indulged within the “tang ping” resistance motion, which advocated for manageable working hours and a high quality of life — all of which have been the antithesis of China’s punishing 9-9-6 work tradition — working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days per week.
It’s this tang ping technology that Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen is chatting with in his newest movie, “The Breaking Ice.” The film, which premieres in Un Certain Regard at Cannes on May 21, follows three younger individuals who hit the highway collectively after their lives intersect unexpectedly.
“In recent years, and in recent contemporary cinema in China, no one has really tried to do a real portraiture of it what feels to be a young person in China,” says Chen, who was chatting with Variety from Beijing, the place a number of his movies had been screened on the metropolis’s worldwide movie pageant.
“When I look at the films that are made about young people, it’s this very saccharine, vanilla, romantic drama. And I don’t really believe those characters. They feel so made up, and as though they exist for some kind of fantasy off screen.”
“The Breaking Ice” is a love letter to Chinese youth. It’s additionally a vessel that’s allowed the celebrated filmmaker — who gained the Camera d’Or in Cannes 10 years in the past for his acclaimed debut characteristic “Ilo Ilo” — to enter the Chinese market on his personal phrases.
“I’ve always been courted and invited to shoot a film in China, but I’ve always been very passive,” says Chen, who lately moved together with his household from London, his house of 17 years, to Hong Kong. “I’ve never said yes to anything because I didn’t want to be a [work-for-hire] director.”
But a press journey to the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2021 modified his thoughts. Chen, who has a big following in China, was always questioned by native critics and journalists about his meticulously deliberate and executed films. “They were asking me, ‘Anthony, your films are so precise; it feels like you’re quite a control freak. We wonder what an Anthony Chen film would be like if you were less controlling of everything?’”
And so Chen relinquished management — at the least slightly bit. Suddenly discovering himself with a window of time one winter between tasks, the filmmaker flew to China to make a film, with none type of script in hand. The ensuing mission — written in a matter of days in a resort throughout quarantine — is knowledgeable by the in depth analysis Chen carried out on the youth tradition in China.
“I was reading so many articles about the lost generation of China. Young people have all these struggles and anxieties about working so hard, [and] being able to own things like their parents. What does it really lead to? And it’s not just about China; it’s a common set of issues for young people around the world who are searching for their own purpose.”
“The Breaking Ice” is about in Yanji, a border metropolis in north China that feels extra like Korea, and filmed across the Changbai Mountains. Chen and his actors, which embody main Chinese stars Dongyu Zhou, Haoran Liu and Chuxiao Qu, filmed for 38 days with wintry scenes shot in temperatures that reached -18 levels Celsius.
“I literally put myself completely outside of my comfort zone,” laughs Chen.
In the backdrop of the movie is a manhunt of a North Korean defector — a through-line that was knowledgeable by Chen’s personal expertise whereas scouting areas. “During our time there, there were [wanted] posters everywhere of this person, where a lot of money was being offered [for information about him],” he explains.
The movie, nonetheless, by no means explicitly discusses what’s on the opposite aspect of the border — and maybe for good purpose. Chen is keen for it to launch in China (it was funded by Huace Pictures), and it has to this point handed censors to safe the Dragon Seal, which is a robust indication that it’ll in the end hit film theaters.
“I’m hoping that [Chinese youth] can connect with it, maybe in a spiritual way, with one of the characters or the themes I’m trying to explore,” says Chen. “This is a film about young people finding their spiritual freedom and, in a way, both in front of and behind the camera, it’s also me finding my spiritual freedom and breaking out of a box.”