Singapore has picked Ilker Anthony Chen‘s coming-of-age Chinese drama The Breaking Ice as its submission to the 2024 Oscars in the best international feature category. The film made its world premiere in May in Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section, with The Hollywood Reporter‘s critics later selecting it as one of the 20 best films screened at the prestigious French festival this year.
Made with a mostly Chinese cast and crew, The Breaking Ice tells the story of an unlikely, fleeting friendship formed between three restless young people in China’s far northeastern border city of Yanji. It is headlined by a star-studded ensemble of young Chinese talent, including Zhou Dongyu (Oscar-nominated Better Days), Liu Haoran (Detective Chinatown franchise) and Qu Chuxiao (The Wandering Earth). Described as a Generation Z drama, the film’s story follows the blossoming friendship of its three main characters as they discover warmth in their shared isolation over a weekend in the winter snow — exploring some of the hopes, dreams, and anxieties of Chinese young people in the process. It was Chen’s first feature shot entirely in mainland China, a project that took him far outside his creative comfort zone. In an interview with THR, Chen described the film as his “love letter” to China’s restless youth.
The Breaking Ice is Chen’s third directional effort to be selected as Singapore’s entry for the best international film category at the Oscars. His debut feature Ilo Ilo was picked a decade ago and his follow-up, Wet Season, was put forward in 2021. Neither film made the Oscars’ shortlist, but both titles were feted on the festival circuit (Ilo Ilo won Cannes’ Caméra d’Or award). Last year, Singapore selected He Shuming’s drama Ajooma for the Oscars. That film, the first-ever Singapore-Korea co-production, also was produced by Chen.
THR‘s lead critic praised The Breaking Ice after its Cannes premiere, writing: “Chen returns here to the gentler observational style and hushed intimacy of his gorgeous domestic drama, Ilo Ilo… Rich in feeling yet never emotionally emphatic, The Breaking Ice has an uncluttered narrative simplicity that’s mirrored in the shooting style and nicely offset by the nuanced complexity of the relationships.”
He added: “The new film’s characters — a woman and two men in their 20s, played with exquisite restraint by three appealing, impeccably naturalistic actors — are afflicted by sorrows, frustrations and anxieties seldom articulated, but their many moments of introspection reveal as much as they withhold.”
Strand Releasing is planning a theatrical release for The Breaking Ice in North America in late 2023 or early 2024. International sales on the title are repped by Rediance. Chen produced the film with Meng Xie under their Canopy Pictures banner. The film was released in cinemas in Singapore on Sept. 7 by Golden Village Pictures. It opened in mainland China on Aug. 22 and has earned about $3.5 million (RMB 26 million), according to data from ticketing app Maoyan.