Writer-director Bi Gan follows his enthralling debut, 2015’s “Kaili Blues,” with a mesmerizing film-noir that uses color and the shroud of nightfall to guide the audience down a path filled with mystery and romance. “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is both a cinematic and technological achievement for the Chinese filmmaker who delivers a nearly one-hour continuous-take dream sequence that is heightened by using 3-D. French director Alain Resnais comes to mind while viewing the film and so does Andrei Tarkovsky’s work, specifically “Stalker.” There is also a 2-D version of “Journey” playing in theaters that captures the impact of Gan’s film, but I recommend seeing it in 3-D to fully immerse yourself in the surreal finale.
Once again, we find ourselves in the same setting as Gan’s debut film, Kaili City in China’s southeastern Guizhou province. If you’re thinking of traveling there be warned the Kaili of Gan’s films isn’t a true reflection of the city which is quite modern with a population of over half a million.
Our protagonist, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), has just returned home following the death of his father. All that remains of his family’s footprint is the restaurant bearing his mother’s name which has been left to his stepmother. Before the former casino manager drives away from all traces of his past in a van inherited from his father, he advises his stepmother to keep the restaurant’s name in what sounds more like a threat than a request.
Like any good film-noir, Gan’s “Journey” involves an investigation and a woman. In this case, the femme fatale is named Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei from Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”). More than a memory from his past, the two had a passionate love affair a decade ago while on the run from a gangster named Zuo Hongyan (Chen Yongzhong) who is also responsible for the death of Luo’s friend Wildcat (Lee Hong-Chi). To add to mystery, Lou’s mother disappeared when he was a child and so there is a lot to ponder for both the audience and our gumshoe who descends into the night like a Chinese Robert Mitchum in search of answers.
As with “Kaili Blues” time becomes disoriented as the past and present intertwine. Water and rain saturate the landscape in what seems like an ode to Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” while the scenery moves from isolated locations to a desolate neon-lit inner city that could have inspired Ridley Scott’s futuristic “Blade Runner” which itself followed the film-noir guidebook. Like Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, Luo wonders the streets using voice-over narration, his thoughts become our guidebook. The more I think about it, the more similarities I see between the two films. At the core of Scott’s science fiction classic lies a story made up the same elements featured in Gan’s mesmerizing film.
Colors that include green and red are linked to Gan’s characters in the form of a stunning dress, a tattered book, and an apple. The striking cinematography is a result of three talented cinematographers, David Chizallet, Jingsong Dong, and Yao Hung-i.
As Luo wonders through the night he contemplates thoughts like “The difference between film and memory is that films are always false. But memories mix truth and lies.” His insight seems to summarize Gan’s surreal film that concludes in a movie theater as Luo dons a pair of 3-D glasses and falls asleep, a cue for the audience to put on their 3-D glasses and prepare for a dream sequence that was shot in one 57-minute continuous take. In dreams, nothing is off limits, but Gan stays grounded in reality while Luo’s fantasy takes use to mine shifts, pool halls, and karaoke festivals. Dazzling.
We’ve all had a dream that didn’t make sense, yet it was so fascinating that if awakened you immediately would try and fall back asleep in the hopes that the dream would pick up where it left off. Perhaps that’s because dreams are an extension of our waking consciousness that help us achieve some sort of emotional balance. Gan’s film reminds me of such an experience. An unpredictable fantasy where fears and hopes collide, a film of the subconscious that writes itself and while the result may leave unanswered questions, the journey was worth the ride.
Now showing in Houston at AMC Studio 30