THE STORY – A man returns to his hometown after a long absence and searches for a woman he has never been able to forget.
THE CAST – Tang Wei
THE TEAM – Bi Gan (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 110 Minutes
By Beatrice Loayza
If you’ve heard anything about young Chinese director Bi Gan’s latest film, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”, it’s likely regarding the film’s nearly hour-long uninterrupted long take. What’s more, the sequence was shot in 3D, and will in fact require audiences to don a pair of 3D glasses to experience the delirious descent down the rabbit hole of our protagonist, Luo (Huang Jue), as he embarks on a search for truth and love (or at least its semblance). Referencing David Lynch and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s erotic dreamscapes, Tarkovsky’s penchant for long takes and dripping water, and Wong Kar-wai’s saturated color schemes, Bi distinguishes himself by the sheer scope of ambition, which plays out with impressive panache in his mountainous hometown of Kaili, in the southern part of China.
Like many of the auteurs already mentioned, the plot is secondary to Bi, who foregoes narrative footholds in the service of formally reproducing the unconscious as a cinematic experience. Nevertheless, the film finds structure through its neo-noir trappings, and Luo’s dizzying, indefatigable search for a mysterious woman in a green dress (Tang Wei). The first half drifts back and forth from the present, specifically Luo’s return to Kaili and the event of his father’s death, and flashbacks to his childhood (the forces and traumas that led him to flee Kaili in the first place, such as a mystery involving a local mafia boss and the death of an old friend by the name of Wildcat). Plot specifics aside, mystery-solving is in no way the end goal. Rather, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” explores the mystery of memory. Not just the secrets hidden by villains or external players, but memories as ciphers coded by the very person remembering, a form of reality screwed up and made slippery by the sheer passage of time, by false consciousness and faulty, yet lasting impressions.
Romantic obsession throughlines the story as Luo meets a karaoke singer in the long-take second half, that may or may not be his long-lost woman in the green dress. A clear reference to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” Luo’s endless searching plays out as a dream, or as an enactment of the subconscious, meaning the characters we encounter and the events that unfold may very well be imaginary reconstructions.
I have to applaud the adventurousness of Bi, who delivers some truly enthralling visual play here. Audiences will be captivated by the experience should they wield the requisite patience for Bi’s somnolent pacing and intentional plodding. The often magnificent, high-shooting results, however, should truly come as no surprise for those familiar with the filmmaker’s soulful debut feature film, “Kaili Blues,” which also features an impressive long take following a motorbike through windy mountain paths. Given the success of this first film, “Long Day’s Journey” enjoyed a significant production budget increase — necessary for realizing this particular vision, but perhaps one of the sources to blame for the film’s emotional vacuousness. Whereas someone like David Lynch fuses elements of the neo-noir and the oneiric to intimate (and formally distinctive) effect, Bi’s efforts don’t register beyond the emotional notes of hazy romanticism. In any case, the audacity of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is a refreshingly bold film from a budding auteur, and well worth the watch despite a lingering emptiness.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Audacious filmmaking and a refreshingly bold vision from a budding auteur.