I suspect playwright Eugene O’Neill never ever envisioned (spoiler alert!) “…a staggering 59-minute 3-D tracking shot that must be seen to be believed” (Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times) when constructing his four-act drama “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 1941-1942. But writer-director Bi Gan (Kaili Blues) sure did, and it’s right here in all its stunningly choreographed and unbroken glory in Di Qiu Zui Hou De Ye Wan (Long Day’s Journey Into Night). Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey’—a creative English translation which has nothing whatsoever to do with O’Neill’s famed play of the same name by the way—is ostensibly about a man searching for a woman, but it’s as much about the difference between movies and memories—“The difference between film and memory… is that films are always false. But memories mix truth and lies. They appear and vanish before our eyes.” And it elects to demonstrate the truths and falsehoods of each in two distinct halves divided by its stark title marker which splashes big upon the screen approximately 75 minutes in. I don’t typically read up on a film much before watching it for fear of being unduly influenced, but Landmark Theatres’ brief synopsis had me at “…noir-tinged stunner featuring an hour-long, gravity-defying climactic sequence.” After that most titillating of revelations all bets were on! Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018) is a rich and sometimes rewarding riddle, “a mystery broken into a jigsaw puzzle, wrapped in a conundrum, and hidden in a Chinese box” (The Riddler, The Long Halloween). Sumptuously photographed (by Hung-i Yao) and enigmatically performed (by Jue Huang, and Wei Tang as the object of his fervent obsessions), this art house conundrum is as aggravating as it is mesmerizing. My main gripe is that the technical triumphs of its dream-laden second act weren’t in service of a more narratively-coherent first, with its karo syrup-paced non-linear timelines accented by layers of poetic if oftentimes indecipherable dialogue (“Dreams rise up and I wonder if my body is made of hydrogen. And then my memories would be made of stone”). Fortunately, there’s enough style and visual substance on hand—saturated hues and lots of wet to reflect them—to more than make up for the impenetrable bits. As for that much-lauded tracking shot, if this 28-year-old auteur can pull off such an accomplished, outrageous stunt in his sophomore effort, one wonders what wonders we can expect from him in the future.
(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth