Freud comes to China in the Grand Prize winner of this year’s Tokyo Fest, a sumptuously shot study of filial loyalty and “Hamlet”-like angst. Top tech values, a provocative plot hook, and the star-power of Siqin Gaowa (“The Women of the Lake of Scented Souls”) assure offshore fest berths and healthy arthouse respect.
Although nominally a Hong Kong production, “The Day the Sun Turned Cold” is set in the same bleak northern China territory as “Ermo” and “The Story of Qiu Ju.” Vet mainland helmer Yim Ho’s stylish conceit rests on 24-year-old Guan Jian (Tao Chung-Hua), who seeks to bring city police evidence that mom (Siqin) may have murdered his father 10 years earlier. At first, the chain-smoking captain he accosts figures the lad to be either an over-imaginative reader of dime-store crime novels, or a would-be Raskolnikov, but eventually he accompanies Guan to his frozen homeland to help unravel the mystery.
The pic unfolds with time-jumping self-assurance, and the first third is particularly rich in ambiguity, with young Guan’s emotional alliances constantly shifting between his hard-working mother, his cruel-tempered schoolteacher father (Ma Jingwu), and the handsome young woodsman (Wei Zhi) who befriends him and falls for mama. Guan’s betrayal of their affair has tragic consequences, and many layers of guilt and resentment serve to both suppress and revive his memories. By the time mom is formally charged, Guan’s still not sure about his own motives.
Thesping is superb throughout, and Hou Young’s widescreen compositions keep things interesting even when the pic’s energy flags near the end (a switch to mom’s P.O.V. might have added balance and insight). Exceptionally naturalistic sound is a big plus, as is the subtle dovetailing of Yoshihide Otomo’s orchestral score with regional Chinese folk music. All told, the days ahead for this “Sun” look warm indeed.