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Fox Lorber presents
Frozen (1996)

"I've made up my mind. I'm going to do it."
- Qi Ling (Hongshen Jia)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: August 22, 2000

Stars: Jia Hongshen, Ma Xiaoquing
Other Stars: Bai Yu, Li Geng
Director: Xiaoshuai Wang (Wu Ming)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (disturbing themes)
Run Time: 01h:35m:00s
Release Date: February 22, 2000
UPC: 720917520025
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+C+B- D

DVD Review

Despite the new, "nicer" look that China is trying to adopt for the 21st century, the fact still remains that the country is still controlled by an oppressive government that has no real interest in its people. That may sound like a heavy political statement, but nothing less would do when discussing Frozen, for the very essence of this film is political dissidence. Filmmaker Xiaoshuai Wang had to hide behind a veil of anonymity in order to avoid the possible repercussions of making this illegal film. He is credited as "Wu Ming" which loosely translates to "No Name", and the film was banned in China for being independently made with no government certificate.

The movie, supposedly based on a true story, centers around Qi Ling, an artist living in modern day China. He and others like him are prevented from true artistic freedom by the stifling laws, and so he enters a deep depression in which his art suffers. He conceives a performance art piece in which he will go through "seasonal burials," the last of these being an Ice Burial, which will kill him. He decides that publicly committing suicide in this manner is the purest way to make his artform come alive as well as protest the lack of freedom in his country. While his circle of friends understands what he is trying to do, his parents and most adults he knows simply can't grasp it. Now, revealing Qi Ling's death is NOT a spoiler. From the beginning of the movie, it is apparent he WILL die. In fact, the entire movie is basically a flashback of the events leading up to the suicide.

Frozen is a unique movie in that, right from the very beginning, we pretty much know how it will end. To watch the film is to want to see the story of how this young artist met his demise. One of the interesting facets is the way adults are portrayed: for the most part, they cannot understand anything about the youth artist groups because they seem to think that the modern generation is somehow better off than the older one. Using that logic, these kids should have nothing to complain about. The adults obviously miss the point, but their feelings are an accurate measure of how youth involvement in political statements can be misunderstood by those who are content.

While the story of Qi Ling is intriguing, it lasts a little too long. Too much of the movie is taken up by long silences and morbid discussions about death and high art. I'll admit, about halfway through the movie, I caught myself thinking, "Just hurry up and kill yourself already." In the end, I realized that was a rash reaction, but still, the extremely drawn out presentation of the story is something of a flaw. I've seen films with lots of long, philisophical moments (like any Andrei Tarkovsky or Ingmar Bergman movie), but they balanced style with the need for these moments. Frozen gives you no place to go, however, and due to its low budget, is visually unimpressive. These aren't major issues, but they do have a negative effect when the film is mostly a poetic message.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While the transfer here isn't bad, the source print is. For the most part, the image is grainy and slightly washed out. Some of the bad sections of haze and grain result in a lot of compression artifacts. I suppose this can't be blamed on anything in particular since the film was produced under less than stellar conditions. The English subtitles are part of the image and are not player-based. For some reason, these subtitles are annoyingly placed in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, rather than centered on bottom as usual. This makes them unusually distracting and frustrating to read. The full frame image represents the original aspect ratio, but this print will probably look extremely harsh on 16:9 sets.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Pro-Logic Mono audio does its job, but isn't anything noteworthy. The film is primarily dialogue, which is clear and understandable, though it is Mandarin Chinese. There's no real on-screen action that calls for anything more. At times the audio is hard to hear or slightly muddy, but I attribute this to the fact it was recorded on-set with seemingly low-tech equipment.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The presentation here is not very inspiring. There are no extras of any sort, and the film only has 8 chapter stops. This is, sadly, typical of Fox Lorber releases at present, though they have made promises of improving in the future.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Frozen is definitely what would be considered an "art-house" film. It is a deep, meaningful story of someone's pursuit of what they consider artistic purity. Though at times the central character of Qi Ling comes off as a bit pretentious, the movie itself never does. To some, the ideas behind the film might seem mundane, but when place these events in the context of Communist China, it becomes much clearer. Recommended.


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