In northern China, a frightening discovery is made at the end of the 90s. Fragments of butchered bodies are scattered in different parts of the mining region. They do not match each other, which means that multiple people had to be the victims. During the criminal investigation, conducted by officer Zhang (Liao Fan), two police officers are murdered, and Zhang gets suspended from duty. A few years later, after he has started to work as a security guard, his former colleague finds him. It turns out that the series of gruesome crimes continues. Zhang decides to go back to the old investigation, this time, on his own. It leads him to Wu, a young widow working at the dry cleaner's. It seems, she could have been the one person who had contact with all the victims. However, this mysterious, ever-frowning girl closely guards her secrets and does not want to cooperate with the police. But Zhang is no longer a policeman, and the bond that begins to form between them may help him solve the puzzle. It may also, however, prove to be extremely dangerous.
"Black Coal, Thin Ice" is a thriller, which, on the one hand, is derived from the film noir tradition, and, on the other hand, from the greatest achievements of artistic cinema. The combination of a detective story and the quiet contemplation of landscapes and customs of the People's Republic of China makes the third film by Diao Yinan a grim, disturbing, sometimes surrealistic, but at the same time extremely addictive panorama of the modern Middle Kingdom. "Black Coal, Thin Ice" impressed the jury of this year's Berlinale, where it was awarded the most important prize of the festival - the Golden Bear.