Difficult to connect emotionally, though it features a technical masterclass in a nearly hour-long 3D sequence-shot that must be experienced on the big screen.
Dir. Bi Gan
2018 | China | Drama/Mystery | 138 mins | 1.85: 1 | Mandarin
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Cast: Tang Wei, Huang Jue, Sylvia Chang
Plot: A man went back to Guizhou, and found the tracks of a mysterious woman. He recalls the summer he spent with her 20 years ago.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes). Won 3 Golden Horses – Best Cinematography, Best Original Film Score, Best Sound Effects; Nom. for 2 Golden Horses – Best Feature Film, Best Director
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Elliptical/Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore Film Society screening)
The follow-up to Kaili Blues (2015), which was a breakthrough at Locarno, Long Day’s Journey Into Night sees writer-director Bi Gan undertake a far more ambitious endeavour in what is only his second feature. It competed under the Cannes Un Certain Regard category, and won the Golden Horse for Best Cinematography among other accolades.
Much have been hyped about its audacious hour-long 3D sequence-shot that ends the film. Well, I must say that the hype is real, and if you are a true cinephile, you mustn’t experience it anywhere else except in a proper cinema.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is also full of cinematic references. Of the filmmakers that Bi Gan pays homage to, the two most obvious ones are Wong Kar Wai and Andrei Tarkovsky. In the most apparent nod to Tarkovsky, a scene involving the sounds of a passing train and a glass gliding across the table recalls that of Stalker (1979).
“Dreams rise up and I wonder if my body is made of hydrogen. And then my memories would be made of stone.”
But it is in Wong’s cinema that Bi Gan shows most of his love for, where the depiction of time, memory and fleeting romances manifest not just in its plotting, but in ‘essence’, through stylistic choices that create a dense mood of longing, only that his use of colours here are deliberately drab and the lighting low-key. Even the music is less flamboyant and eclectic, but more ambient and ethereal.
Huang Jue plays a man who goes back to his hometown to find an old flame that has been bugging his memories. Tang Wei plays the woman who might be her. To be honest, there is not much incisive plotting, if one regards it as essential to narrative and character building; I would say it features a more impressionistic, and at times, hazy approach to storytelling, where pasts, dreams and memories mesh together with hallucinatory results.
Pair this with the novelty of an extreme long take in 3D, and some might find this a match in heaven, where artistic nous combine perfectly with technical bravura. While I’m suitably impressed, I can’t help but feel detached inside.
It will be meandering to some, and perhaps difficult to connect emotionally for many others, but while Long Day’s Journey Into Night doesn’t quite resonate with me to want to journey with the characters for as long as it takes, Bi Gan’s ‘vision’ does just enough to compel me to stay on. Just barely.