By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Long Day’s Journey into Night” is an extraordinary journey that left me speechless. It is hard to believe the director, Bi Gan, is only 29, and already completed his second major feature. Long Journey takes place in Kaili, located in southeast China, which just so happens to be Bi Gan’s hometown.
In China, there was an ambitious marketing campaign touting Long Journey as the perfect date movie to watch at the end of 2018. Movie showtimes were timed perfectly to start on December 31 and end during a kissing scene at the stroke of midnight. Couples were encouraged to kiss at the same time as the two lead actors on screen. This promotion was extremely successful and the film ended up grossing $38 million in one day. Unfortunately, the next day, there was a major backlash as China’s audience felt tricked and found the movie incomprehensible, confusing, and boring. The film ended up grossing only an additional $3 million during the rest of its run.
Long Journey is also distinctly split into two halves. The first half is a traditional 2D movie, but the second half is a 55-minute long 3D sequence shot in a single take.
There is a warning before the movie starts not put on your 3D glasses until the main protagonist puts on his 3D glasses. It’s very meta. I did some research on the 3D scene afterwards and it is indeed one long take without any hidden cuts. It took two months of preparation to make sure the camera could move seamlessly in all directions.
Given Long Journey’s crazy marketing promo and unbelievable 3D scene, I was excited for this film as I am a 3D aficionado. Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) has flashbacks of a fiery love affair with Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), when her gangster boyfriend, Zuo Hongyan (Chen Yongzhong), was away. After the death of Luo’s friend, Wildcat, he heads back to Kaili to find Wan. But is Wan Qiwen her name or just the name of a movie star? We do not know if this memory is real. The first half has a lot of dripping water, mirrors, windows and other objects used to blur or distort the audience’s perspective. It is challenging to take it all in and figure out in my mind.
The movie dragged even as I tried to stay as attentive as possible and just waiting to get to the scene where Luo would put on his 3D glasses. The 3D sequence felt like a video game, as Luo seems to be given quests by characters to complete before he can advance. There were no crazy 3D landscape shots or objects moving towards you, but the change of visual medium was quite immersive and very effective. This sequence was also filled with many scattered details from Luo’s past. This led to many new questions to an already open-ended film.
Be ready for a long journey as you dream and imagine your way through “Long Journey’s Day into Night.”
I watched the film at the SIFF Uptown, but don’t expect it to continue next week as this arthouse film is very niche. Give this film a chance if you are into creative romantic drama with innovative 3D sequences.
Thank you SIFF and Kino Lorber for bringing this film to Seattle!
John can be reached at email@example.com.