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For actor Liu Haoran, playing a determined student in The Breaking Ice comes naturally

SINGAPORE – In the drama The Breaking Ice, three young adults have trouble finding their place in the world, so they come together, forming a family of sorts.

Nana (Zhou Dongyu) is all smiles when she leads group tours, but feels empty inside. Her friend Xiao (Qu Chuxiao) is a restaurant worker with a restless nature. Haofeng (Liu Haoran) is a new arrival on holiday in the snowy northern Chinese city of Yanji.

Outwardly, Haofeng appears to be the epitome of urban success, but Nana can tell that like her, he is adrift. The trio spend four days together, exploring the area and, in the process, discovering truths about themselves.

The Breaking Ice, written and directed by Singaporean film-maker Anthony Chen, is now showing in cinemas. Chen’s fourth feature, and the first he has shot in China, was selected for the Un Certain Regard section at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

Chinese actor Liu, 25, tells The Straits Times in a telephone interview from China that his character’s alienation is a phase many young adults around the world go through, but the last few years have been especially tough.

“Leaving school and trying to find a job is hard enough, but this generation had to deal with the pandemic, which changed the corporate world,” he says.

In a press conference held last week at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, his co-star Zhou, 31, spoke about how she suffered a loss of confidence after graduating from the Beijing Film Academy, because it seemed that for a period, no studio wanted to hire her.

In the interview with ST, Liu says: “In the last few years, Internet technology changed significantly – there are so many forms of social media to deal with, and what’s more, young people now have to deal with artificial intelligence making an impact on everyone’s life.”

Liu, one of China’s most popular actors, broke through in the comedy Detective Chinatown (2015) and its two sequels (2018 and 2021).

He has also appeared in other domestic hits, such as the comedy anthology My People, My Homeland (2020).

For the actors, working with Chen, 39, was an interesting experience because the Ilo Ilo (2013) film-maker sought to incorporate details from their lives into their characters.

In a story he related at the Singapore press conference, Chen said that Qu, 28, for example, had talked about his fondness for motorcycles, so he worked two-wheelers into the story.

For Liu, Chen noted that the actor showed up at their first meeting wearing something few filmgoers have seen him wear in his movies.

“I’m short-sighted, so I wore my spectacles when we met. Anthony liked that, so he incorporated the glasses into the character I portray,” he says.

Chen also incorporated Liu’s background. Like Liu, Haofeng grew up determined to seize every chance he got to move ahead.

The film-maker knows that in China, the yearly national college entrance examinations can set the course of a person’s life. So he made Haofeng a character who saw that doing well in school meant he could move himself and his parents up the social ladder.

Likewise, Liu, who was born in the city of Pingdingshan in Henan, was a student who submerged himself in course work, according to the Chinese media. In the yikao, the Joint Artistic Examination that determines entry into arts colleges, Liu emerged as the top scorer in acting for his year, reports said. Based on his results, he entered the elite Central Academy of Drama in Beijing in 2015.

“Chen knew that passing the big examinations can set your future. Haofeng studied hard and managed to move from a rural area to a good job in a big city. And eventually, he got into the financial sector,” Liu says.

“If I were not an actor, I would probably have gone down a similar path in life.”

The Breaking Ice is now showing in cinemas.

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