The Day the Sun Turned Cold

Reviewed by YTSL

Early on in this 1994 film that Yim Ho directed, wrote the script for and co-produced (along with Wong Hing Dung and Wong Sik Ban), a twenty-four year old man is heard to assert the following about his mother: “I don’t hate her.  She’s a good woman.  I love her a lot”.  Although he sounded sincere when issuing these statements, it’s very difficult to take him at his word.  This is because of it being so that pretty much the very first things that this recently demobbed soldier turned welder is shown doing in this chill-inducing offering is going to a police station to, seemingly out of the blue, accuse the woman who had raised -- and, according to her (then) husband, spoilt -- him of having committed a murder -- a crime whose penalty (as pointed out by the already hard pressed police captain played by Li Hu) in Communist ruled China, the country where this story is set, is death by way of a firing squad -- that few other people look to have suspected her of enacting.

When the point is reached in THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD that this not very sympathetic fellow -- who argues that he did what he did because his conscience forced him to but gets very negatively described anyways in this 1994 effort’s Chinese title (which translates into English as “Traitorous Prince”) -- actually finally tells the woman he has essentially betrayed “Ma.  I’ve informed on you”, this (re)viewer’s sympathies were squarely with the accused murderess as opposed to the self-righteous individual who had instigated a criminal investigation against her.  Similarly, I wasn’t going to argue against this former bean curd maker and seller as well as wife of a school principal’s bitter suggestion of it being so, at least in this particular instance, that: “Raise a son, and you’ve brought up resentment”.
All this is not to say though that there’s no foundation whatsoever for the case that ended up being built against the accused woman.  What muddies the waters morally, even if not legally, though is that: For one thing, she -- whose maiden name is Pu Feng Ying (and who gets portrayed by the highly respected Mainland Chinese actress, Siqin Gaowa) -- was being reported, then investigated, for a very serious crime that occurred ten long years ago (in 1980, since the flashback as well as snow filled THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD’s “present day” is 1990); and, for another, the man (Guan Shichang is essayed by Ma Jing Wu) that the twice married woman gets charged with of having fatally poisoned turns out to have been her first husband (and father of her first three children, the eldest of whom is her accuser).
In view of the childhood experiences that THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD’s audience get shown being undergone by the generally taciturn Guan Jian (who is played as an adult by Taiwanese actor Tuo Zhong Hua and as a fourteen year old child by Shu Ziong), I would have thought that he would have been far more inclined to take the side of his caring mother than less warm father.  After all, this Northern Chinese villager -- who unquestionably had had a hard life -- it is who was prepared to do such as take a beating for him (as well as labor in far from ideal conditions to put food in his stomach, shoes on his feet and a smile on his face) while the older and more educated parent it was whose method of punishing his hooky playing son involved spanking him with a substantial as well as hard looking piece of wood.
In the process of presenting this fact based story (THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD is apparently based on a real life criminal investigation) though, Yim Ho seems to be insinuating that -- for worse rather than better -- certain post 1949 (Mainland) Chinese practices have (overly) encouraged state interference into family matters and also that traditional Chinese culture has taught people to be loyal to those who they share the same surname (and line of descent) with above others (including mothers or step-parents, however (more) kindly and loving they may be).  Hence this unsavory tale -- in which a wood cutter named Lin Dagui (and portrayed by Wu Aizi) also has a part to play -- coming across as actually having rather logically progressed and reached the denouement and conclusion that it does.
THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD is an international award winner (including for Best Film and Director at the 1994 Tokyo International Film Festival) as well as possibly Yim Ho’s most widely distributed Hong Kong film (E.g., it is the only one of them that’s available to rent at my local (non-Chinatown) video store).  While there’s no doubting the pedigree of a dramatic work for which Ann Hui served as executive produce, planner and also costume designer, I will admit that I found this impressively lensed (by Hau Wing) effort difficult to like or even sincerely admire.  This is not least since it is as wintry cold plus didn’t (seem to try to) move me as much as “Red Dust” -- my favorite movie of the art house (leaning) auteur’s mere three that I’ve thus far checked out, and with which this offering looks to have shared a couple of locations -- was blood red warm plus successfully appealed to my heart as well as mind.

My rating for this film: 7.