Made outside the official Chinese production system, where directors tend to cloak their subversive political ideas in period garments, Frozen delivers its most potent statement simply by virtue of its existence. Though unsanctioned films are strictly forbidden in China, director Wu Ming (a pseudonym that translates "no name") used guerrilla-style shooting tactics to prove that the counterculture spirit behind Tiananmen Square hasn't died out. His/her efforts are successful on that front, if only for revealing a thriving avant-garde scene in contemporary Beijing, but perhaps it's unfair to hope for a more coherent or substantive treatment of the film's provocative subject matter. Based on a true story, Frozen concerns a young artist (Jia Hongshen) who invests his despair in a series of performances that will end with his own suicide. Ignoring the pleas of family and friends, he stages an "Ice Burial" by melting huge chunks of ice against his body until he finally succumbs to hypothermia. Fascinated by death and disillusioned with life, he wants his defiant act of self-sacrifice to draw attention and controversy but, in a final irony, it may turn out to be meaningless. Like the recent Windhorse, a similarly clandestine production about Tibetan oppression, Frozen's admirable political courage tends to undermine its artistic success. A better director might have drawn more from the avant-garde community—though there's one great scene in which Jia's colleagues eat a bar of soap to signify their "revulsion"—or explored the impenetrable, glassy-eyed ennui that seems to grip most of its members. On the other hand, that kind of subtlety and depth is probably a negligible concern for a film that's about going to extremes just to get a point across.

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