Ten minutes into this sophomore feature by Kaili Blues (2015) director Gan Bi, I remembered how much I struggled to engage with his first film.
Gan Bi’s love of non-linear narrative plus multiple characters played by the same people and references to a woman who could have been several people meant I was quickly and irretrievably lost. Afterwards I had to check IMDb just to discern characters and try to make sense of the story.
It might be this; Luo (Jue Huang) travels back to his home town of Kaili on his father’s death. There he finds a photo of a woman (Wei Tang) hidden in an old clock. She may have been the love of his childhood friend Wildcat (Hong-Chi Lee), who was found dead in a mine. She may have been Luo’s lover and we see her in the past as Wan Qiwen and in a dream he has as Kaizhen. Other than that, I’m not sure.
The direct translation of the original title, 地球最后的夜晚, is Last Night on Earth which perhaps adds an element of foreboding to what seems to be a story of accountability for wrongdoing.
With Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Gan Bi has improved his mastery of non-linear, dreamlike storytelling and has better integrated his ‘you can’ help but anticipate it’ 50-minute single-take scene. This time we all got 3D glasses to put on as the story transitions to Luo’s dream, which gives an initial visceral glee as the title card and first shot leap from the screen but also act as a moment of performance that aligns us with Luo.
The film is beautiful. There is one scene where we watch a man eat an entire apple, bathed in rosy light and with tears forming slowly in his eyes. The single take is remarkable, leading us from a mine to a hilltop, down a flying fox, through buildings and it even flies us down to the ground. There is pleasure and pain with this artfulness; you recognise the purpose of editing as we follow the VERY SLOW flying fox in its descent and then you marvel at the fluidity of movement and wonder how on earth the flying scene was staged. Mostly it is seamless, like a dream, but I couldn’t help being pulled out of the mood and story as I noticed its conceit.
From Wikipedia, I found that the single-take sequence took two months to prepare, mainly to work out the techniques needed to move the 3D camera through the environment, and then seven attempts at shooting the sequence before Bi was satisfied.
Despite its challenging story structure, the film was marketed and distributed in China as an ideal date movie and received a wide theatrical release. The strategy worked and it sold an immense amount in presales but then faded quickly as movie-goers realised it wasn’t quite as it had been promoted. This led to a backlash, with the hashtag “can’t understand Long Day’s Journey Into Night” trending on social media.
I understand their pain and my feeling is that this is perhaps a masterpiece of filmmaking but it’s not for me.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.