Long Day's Journey into Night

 

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Chinese cinema turns romantic again but in a very challenging and demanding work.

 
Long Day's Journey into Night

Tang Wei and Huang Jue

 

Nothing if not ambitious, Bi Gan’s second feature is a work in two parts the second of which is shot with great, unassertive assurance in 3-D.  Bi has described it as a film about memories and it certainly comes over as a work concerned in part with the way in which the past can be allowed to have a harmful effect on the present. The film’s early scenes - and very much its best ones - show the central character, Luo Hongwu played by Huang Jue, approaching a girl named Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei). He declares that she reminds him of another girl he had known way back and indeed we come to realise that he is on a somewhat mysterious quest to trace a woman from an old photograph. The character of these opening passages, enhanced as they are by the music and by the colour tones, is decidedly romantic recalling in consequence such films as Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000). Here, however, references to the past suggest that Luo is so preoccupied with it that it stands in the way of his achieving a satisfactory relationship in the present.

 

If you accept it as an almost dream-like piece of romanticism, one in which style counts more than anything else, then initially this highly original work, which oddly borrows for its English title that of Eugene O’Neill’s great play, begins very promisingly. But then the plot takes over and in doing so it renders this a film of very specialised appeal since most audiences are likely to find themselves bemused by a narrative far from easy to follow. It appears that Wan has a complicated past having once been the girlfriend of Wildcat (a barely glimpsed Lee Hongchi) who, having failed to pay a debt, had been killed by Zuo (Chen Yongzhong) despite which Wan had subsequently taken up with Zuo only to be dumped by him later. Such details emerge partly from voice-overs about the past, but there are also flashbacks and scenes that may be imaginary, while Luo’s attempts to trace the woman from the photograph add to the film’s general lack of clarity.

 

By the time we reach Part II the film becomes dream-like in another way in that Luo claims to have fallen asleep in a cinema and what we see from now on is presented as an actual dream. Consequently, we are no longer trying to disentangle a logical narrative and it is par for the course that seeking to find his way leads Luo into a cave where Wildcat, now the 12-year old boy Luo had once known, offers to get him out of what is a positive labyrinth of mining tunnels. The fact that we can just go with the flow is a gain and, indeed, the flow becomes literal in that the last hour or so of the film involves a single shot which in its movement through a range of settings is in its own way a tour-de-force. But we are still asking what the film is trying to say: that Tang Wei is no longer playing Wan but another woman, Kaizhen, who could become Luo’s romantic partner can be read as a continuation of the theme of needing to break with the past, but why Sylvia Chang, seen earlier as Wildcat’s mother, should now appear in a role described as ‘red-haired woman’ is obscure and furthermore the reason for introducing this woman in dispute with her lover (Xie Lixun) is once again unclear. This is a work of experimentation that is technically impressive and especially so in the sustained 3-D shot that makes up Part II but, if the film has a soul it remains hidden buried somewhere in the depths of this long and elusive film.

 

Original title: Di qiu zui hou de ye wan.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Tang Wei, Huang Jue, Sylvia Chang, Chen Yongzhong, Lee Hongchi, Xie Lixun, Bi Yanmin, Tuan Chun-Hao. Zeng Meihuizi, Luo Felyang, Ming Dow, Qi Xi.

 

Dir Bi Gan, Pro Shan Zuolong, Screenplay Bi Gan, Ph Yao Hung-l, Dong Jinsong and David Chizallet, Pro Des Liu Qiang, Ed Qin Yanan, Music Lim Giong and Point Hsu, Costumes Yeh Chu-Chen and Li Hua.

 

Dangmai Films (Shanghai ) Co. Ltd/Wild Bunch/Zhejiang Huace Film & TV Co. Ltd-New Wave Films.
138 mins. People's Republic of China/France/Taiwan/USA/Germany/Qatar/Japan. 2018. Rel: 27 December 2019. Cert. 12A.