LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Diqiu zuihou de yewan)
(director/writer: Bi Gan; screenwriters: based on the book by Roberto Bolano/Zhang Da-chun; cinematographers: Yao Hung-I, Dong Jinsong, David Chizallet; editor: Qin Yanan; music: Lim Giong, Point Hsu; cast: Tang Wei (Wan Qiwen), Chen Yongzhong (Zuo Hongyan), Jue Huang (Luo Hongwa), Sylvia Chang (Wildcat’s mom/Red-hair woman), Lee Hong-Chi (Wildcat), Luo Feiyang (Wildcat, as a child); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Shan Zuolong; Kino Lorber; 2018-China/France-in Mandarin with English subtitles)
“A wonderfully eerie watch.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Firstly, let it be known that the film has nothing to do with the Eugene O’Neill play and that the Chinese-language title translates to Last Evenings on Earth, from a book by Roberto Bolano. The idiosyncratic 28-year-old Chinese writer-director Bi Gan (“Kaili Blues”) co-writes this mind-blowing film noir with the Taiwan author Zhang Da-chun. Cinephiles have been left gaping with joy at the single shot hallucinatory take that ends the film. It was magnificently shot in 3D for 50 minutes of running time. The pic is set in Bi’s hometown of Kaili. In its dream-like images, it blurs the lines of reality.
Luo Hongwa (Jue Huang) recalls that 20 years ago he had a romance with the erotic femme fatale Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei) in Kaili and that he left his enigmatic lover ten years ago. Though he can’t stop thinking about her and the green dress she wears, he can’t trust his memory to get his facts right. In a flashback, the film returns to 2000 and to Kaili. The lovers meet at a secret location that Wan’s ex-lover, the dangerous gangster Zuo Hongyan (Chen Yongzhong), is unaware of.
While in further flashbacks, searching for the elusive Wan, our troubled hero goes on false leads that take him nowhere. One such false lead takes him to the murder of their mutual friend Wildcat (Lee Hong-Chi). In the neon-lit surroundings, things seem ominous. There’s the relentless shots of water dripping from the ceilings that gives us an eerie feeling that all’s not well. Traveling to the hills outside of town, Luo discovers a village that displays the ruins from another time in history. At a movie theater showing a 3D film, Luo wears the 3D glasses we must also wear to see it now in 3D (seen at a special 3D screening).
The film delves head-long into the surreal, as three cinematographers Yao Hung-I, Dong Jinsong and David Chizallet, in a splendid technical achievement, shoot it as a magical visual ride our boy goes on. Luo amazingly walks through a dark tunnel, plays a magical game of ping-pong, hops on a scooter and then bursts into town hoping to find where Wan is hiding.
Though it’s a wonderfully eerie watch, the narrative seems to forget the plot was to in the end clear our hero’s distorted memory and for him to possibly relocate the woman he loves. If you want such answers, you won’t get them here. How that sits with the viewer, depends on how serious you are about plot development. I took the film as a nocturnal dream flick addressing questions about time and memory, and realize dreams often can’t be easily explained. I welcomed it as a mind-fuck “midnight” film that got me to trip out over the visuals and not worry about what couldn’t be determined. It was sort of like one of my LSD trips in the 60s, where you experience the adventure for its thrills but don’t have the knowledge to quite understand it all intellectually.
The aesthetics remind one of the cinema of both Wong Kar-Wai and Andrei Tarkovsky.
REVIEWED ON 12/29/2019 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/