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Long Day's Journey into Night
Di qiu zui hou de ye wan
Last Evenings on Earth
★★☆☆☆
First run Theater cinema

The sophomore feature from Chinese writer/director Bi Gan (Kaili Blues) is a dream film in two distinct parts.  Part One follows a nonlinear structure in which a lonely man named Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) returns to his hometown of Kaili after many years.  As he wanders, he recalls the death of an old friend and searches for a lost love. Luo seems to exist in both the present and the past simultaneously, and he is haunted by a beautiful woman (Tang Wei) who reminds him of his former lover Wan Qiwen, the girlfriend of the gangster who killed his old friend. At the end of the first part, Luo, waiting in a movie theater, puts on some 3D glasses and falls asleep. Only then does the film’s title appear: Long Day's Journey into Night. Using the title of Eugene O'Neill’s iconic play about a dysfunctional American family seems an odd choice for the English language moniker when the direct translation of the Chinese title, Last Evenings On Earth, feels far more apt, but never mind. At this point in the picture the audience is invited to put on our 3D glasses for Part Two: a 59 minute unbroken shot in which Luo must find his way out of a prison and back into the life of his long lost love. This second part has many dreamlike qualities—the settings seem to blend seamlessly from one to the other; Luo and Wan can fly—but it plays more like a cinematic ride through a Rube Goldberg machine.

This is not to say that Long Day's Journey into Night is a mere gimmick movie. There is some memorable imagery here, and Bi creates a rich, nocturnal tapestry. But I can’t say I found the experience especially consequential. Apart from the power of memory, there’s little thematic content. The film noir tropes feel superficial. And the long, unbroken 3D shot of the final hour draws attention to itself rather than hypnotizing us into thinking we are the characters. Whether photographed in an actual single take, like Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002) or Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria (2015), or made to appear as a single take via editing or CGI, like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Chris Kentis and Laura Lau’s Silent House (2012), or Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014), movies that utilize one long unbroken shot often feel like a stunt. How much a viewer engages with the characters and the stakes of the situation usually determines if such pictures are deemed a work of genius or pretension, and it’s a very subjective distinction. For me, Long Day's Journey mostly falls in the latter camp.

NOTE: Perhaps I should disclose that I’m a sound sleeper who rarely recalls his dreams, so I’m perhaps not the best judge of how effective a movie is at creating a dream landscape. But I do love the rich dream-pictures of Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, David Lynch, and others.

Twitter Capsule:
Bi creates a rich, nocturnal tapestry in this dream-film about memory and regret, but the film's film noir tropes feel superficial and its final hour long 3D set-piece is more technically impressive than spellbinding.

Directed by Gan Bi
Produced by Zuolong Shan

Written by Gan Bi

With: Huang Jue, Tang Wei, Sylvia Chang, Lee Hong-chi, Chloe Maayan, and Ming Dao

Cinematography: David Chizallet, Jingsong Dong, and Hung-i Yao
Editing: Yanan Qin
Music: Giong Lim and Chih-Yuan Hsu

Runtime: 138 min
Release Date: 31 December 2018
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color