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MOVIE REVIEW

'Sun' a Compelling Mix of Mystery, Endurance

February 09, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The hard lot of women is a persistent concern in Asian cinema, where women frequently emerge as symbols of endurance.

The heroine of Yim Ho's "The Day the Sun Turned Cold" is seemingly like countless others: an illiterate, hard-working bean-curd peddler (Siqin Gowa) making the best of an unhappy marriage to the severe principal (Ma Jing Wu) of the school in their remote village in Northern China. Her life brightens a bit when a woodsman (Wai Zhi) rescues the woman and her 14-year old son in a snowstorm and begins helping her sell her bean curd.

From the start, however, Yim makes it clear we're in for something different, for he opens his film with the son, now a young man living in a big city--a laborer by day and a criminal law student by night--entering a police station. In a crisis of conscience, he reports that he suspects his mother, who married the woodsman after her husband's death, of murdering his father. Because this young man, Guan Jin (Tuo Zhong Hua) can so easily demonstrate his solid citizenship, a veteran police captain (Li Hu) concludes that he must investigate the death, which occurred 10 years earlier.

The result is a complex and compelling mystery in an unlikely setting. Through a series of plot twists and turns, the mother emerges as a staunch, free-thinking woman, now long married to a nice guy who is devoted to her. It's no wonder that Guan Jin's brother and sister deeply resent the scandal he has stirred up with his accusations.

Yim does a terrific job of keeping us guessing about whether the woman is guilty and whether her current husband was involved. Then there's the entire question of Guan Jin's motivation: Is his accusation strictly an act of conscience on his part--he does owe his success to his father's strictness in relation to his studies--or is there an unacknowledged, long-brewing Oedipal rage driving him? Can he--or we--ever know for certain?

"The Day the Sun Turned Cold" is a handsome film, greatly enhanced by Yoshihide Otomo's plaintive score. It's also an instance of splendid ensemble acting, but it's rightly dominated by Siqin, a round-faced, stocky woman who is a formidable actress, best known for her portrayal of another beleaguered wife and mother in Xie Fei's equally impressive "Woman From the Lake of Scented Souls."

* Unrated. Times guidelines: The film's themes are decidedly adult and complex, and there is some blunt language.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'The Day the Sun Turned Cold'

Siqin Gowa: The Mother

Tuo Zhong Hua: Guan Jin

Ma Jing Wu: The Father

Wai Zhi: The Second Husband

Shu Zhong: Guan Jin as a child

A Kino International release of a Pineast production. Writer-producer-director Yim Ho. Executive producer-costume designer Ann Hui. Cinematographer Hou Yong. Editor Wong Yee-shun. Music Yoshihide Otomo. Art director Jessinta Liu. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

* Exclusively at the New Beverly Cinema, 7165 Beverly Blvd., (213) 938-4038.

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