Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the kind of audacious filmmaking experiment for which film festivals like Cannes were invented. It favours mood and an ingenuity of image over any instinct to deliver a streamlined, coherent narrative. The results are mixed.
Following his acclaimed debut Kaili Blues, director Gan Bi uses his higher profile to corral a bigger budget and acclaimed arthouse actors Tang Wei and Sylvia Chang. The style of the two films are similar, with both operating as woozy neo-noirs, but here Bi’s ambition is greater.
Protagonist Luo (Huang Jue) returns to Kaili after his father’s death, and this seismic event triggers an avalanche of reminiscences. We see the girl he was once in love with, Wan Qiwen (Tang); the possibly criminal friend who was recently murdered, Wildcat (Lee Hong-Chi); and the mafia boss who haunts all these relationships. These scraps of memory float by with the weight and meaning of bubbles on a breeze, building up a sensuous mood but little else.
Bi is trying to make a point about the unreliability of memory and the heart-break of losing people we love. His abandoned industrial sets, falling into disrepair, echo Luo’s empty life now his nearest and dearest are lost to the past. The problem is he explores this theme in such a limp, stubborn way, keeping emotion and character detail at arm’s length, that it bores rather than intrigues.
Bi ends with a virtuoso gambit. Luo enters a cinema and puts on a pair of 3D glasses, sinking into a final dream, shot in a single take and lasting for nearly an hour. It’s an incredible achievement, full of excellent photography from a trio of DoPs, but it has the same issue as the rest of the film: all style, no substance.
CAST: Sylvia Chang, Yongzhong Chen, Jue Huang
DIRECTOR: Gan Bi
WRITER: Gan Bi
SYNOPSIS: Luo Hongwu returns to Kaili, the hometown from which he fled many years ago. He begins the search for the woman he loved, and whom he has never been able to forget.