A Single Mother Attempts to “Cure” Her Gay Son in ‘Sunset Sunrise’

Sunset Sunrise

Sunset Sunrise’ is a story about  Lily, a traditional Chinese mother who struggles to come to terms with her son’s sexuality.

This short film won the Jury Award at the 2019 USC Asian Pacific Film Festival and was an official selection for different film festivals such as the 2019 Asians on Film Festival of Shorts, the 2019 Seattle Asian American Film Festival, the 2019 AFMA Film Festival of Young Cinema, the 2018 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, the 2018 Taiwanese American Film Festival, and the 2018 Chinese American Film Festival.

If you want to know more about this critically-acclaimed 12-minute short film, keep on reading. Trigger warning though, this movie deals with the topic of suicide and internalized homophobia.

Sunset Sunrise

‘Sunset Sunrise’ starts with Lily (Eon Song) and her son, Bao (Todd Lien) making dumplings as they engage in small talk about Bao. Lily comments that he must have a girl now seeing that she heard him talking to one the other day. Bao denies it and tells her she was just a friend. Lily then praises Bao’s dumplings, saying his creations look better than the ones she made. Bao tells her it’s because he has a good teacher, referring to Lily. Lily then confirms that school should be his priority, he has tests coming up after all. Bao confidently says that she should have faith in her because he has never let her down. The conversation ends and Bao is asked to fetch water.

Later that day, Lily knocks and enters Bao’s room bringing him his newly folded clothes. Bao, who’s in the bathroom lets her go in. While putting the clean clothes in Bao’s dresser, Lily comes across a gay adult magazine which she picks up and opens. Bao enters the room to a stupefied Lily who asks her why he has something like that. Bao is horrified and denies it’s his and tells him it’s his friend Andrew’s, he just left it in his room. Lily asks if they read such stuff which leads to Bao rambling, saying they were just messing around. Lily wordlessly exits the room, shocked and confused, leaving a worried Bao. 

The two share an equally awkward meal for dinner after the incident with Bao intently watching his mother who is quietly eating and refusing to meet his eyes.

Afterward, we see Lily in the hospital, having begged Doctor Lin to cure Bao repeatedly but was turned down. The doctor adamantly told her that homosexuality is not a disease. Lily pulled him aside and told him that Bao once told her he liked a girl in school before, so she just wants him to be normal like everybody else. The doctor then referred her to counselors for parents of gay children much to Lily’s dismay.

Lily ends up opening up to a co-worker, asking if it’s her fault that he turned up gay since he grew up with a single mother. The friend tells her to stop blaming herself and to not trust doctors since she knew someone who had cancer ended up living beyond what the doctor told him because he had incense ashes from the temple mixed into his water.  Buddha’s blessing, she calls it. The friend then advised her to take a pinch of incense ash and mix it with Bao’s water which she assures will cure him of his homosexuality.

Lily follows her friend’s advice and has Bao drink the water mixed with ashes under the guise of Chinese medicine from a friend. Bao ends up spitting out the drink, coughing from the taste of it. Lily concedes and tells him it’s okay not to finish the entire thing.

 

Sunset Sunrise

The next day, Bao comes home from school to find Lily working in the kitchen, preparing dumplings. Bao attempts to join him and puts on an apron which upsets Lily who finds kitchen endeavors to be a woman’s responsibility. She throws the dumplings she’s been preparing to push Bao out of the kitchen and then sobs. Bao retreats to his room.

In his bedroom, Bao contemplates his current predicament. He furiously tears the gay magazine and in a crazed state, makes himself a drink mixed with the incense ash and forcefully downs the entire thing. Bao coughs up and feels nauseous. He falls to the floor in pain which is how Lily finds him. Lily cradles him in her arms in panic and they rush into the hospital.

Bao wakes up in the hospital room to a sleeping Lily beside him. Lily stirs awake as soon as she feels him move. Lily gently chides him for his foolishness and assured him that he can rest as per the doctor’s instruction because she has already talked to the school about him. Bao tearfully asks his mother if she could still love her if he was gay. Lily takes his hands in hers and tells her that he’s her only son, of course, she’ll still love him. Lily tearfully admits her mistake, it’s just that she was worried about his future when life is already so hard. Lily hugs him and assures him that she will be by his side.

What happens next is a change for the better in their household. Bao is once again allowed to be in the kitchen, happily bonding with Lily over cooking the dumplings they made together.

 

Writer’s thoughts:

What a heartwrenching film. What I appreciate about this short is the use of dumplings to show how it was a simple and happy bonding activity between a mother and his son, to how it was suddenly something Lily could forbid in order to force the homosexuality out of Bao, and in the end, how the two repaired their relationship and has once again found happiness in making dumplings and sharing the kitchen. 

‘Sunset Sunrise’ explores the complicated relationships gay sons have with their families, especially with single mothers and we see it with how Lily blamed herself for Bao turning out the way he did due to being deprived of having a father figure in his life. We see it with how she thought she had to cure the gayness out of her son, not necessarily due to hatred but in order to protect him from hardships that queer people would have to endure in an already difficult life. 

We see it too with how wrecked Bao was when he was forced out of what used to be their quality time, only because it was considered a feminine activity, and how he was very quickly pushed to take his life because, hey, she was the only one in his life that mattered, and her acceptance was the only one that mattered. We see how important it was for him when the first thing he asks her after waking up is if she’ll still love him if he turned out to be gay. 

‘Sunset Sunrise’ is a tearjerker at only 12 minutes and is definitely worth the watch.

 

Watch ‘Sunset Sunrise’ on GagaOOLala. 

 

 

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