When I first saw the title LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT on the list of films for the 56th annual New York Film Festival, I thought, “Oh wow! A new adaptation of the classic Eugene O’Neill play”, but I was 100% incorrect in that assumption. While the play is a drama with quite a few twists and turns, that’s about the only real similarity shared with this film of the same name.
This particular LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is the latest film from well-loved Chinese director Gan Bi, who came into popularity in 2015 with his film Kaili Blues. This film once again returns to Kaili, a city in the southeastern province of Giuzhou, China.
The basic plot of the film, and when I say basic, I mean basic, is that Luo Hongwu (Huang Je; The Master) a man in his late 30’s/early 40’s returns home after fleeing years before due to the death of his father. He inherits his van, while his father’s new wife inherits the restaurant that is named after his mother that disappeared from his life when he was a small child. He finds a photograph of a woman in a broken clock that belonged to his father in the restaurant. There’s a photo of a woman in it.
Here is where things just start to go completely off the rails. Maybe it’s just me, but I was so confused throughout about 75% of the film. There’s a love story that takes place…possibly in reality with Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei; Lust, Caution) and Luo. He spends most of the film looking for her after they have a brief romance. Maybe. Is he looking for her or is he looking for his mother? Or Both?
The film has a great atmosphere. It is definitely Lynchian in tone and the score even reminds one of Angelo Badalamenti. Also, the layers of plot that just wrap around each other to the point of utter chaos could have been an attempt to imitate Lunch but ended up just being…totally and utterly confusing. Maybe this is because I saw this while I was tired but I think it was at least half of us in the theater that felt that way.
The best and coolest part of the film is the hour long 3D-film-within-a-film or as I see it, the part of the film that is definitely a dream. Luo and his young friend, which I think, is a mix of his childhood friend, Wildcat, and his ideation of what his and Wan Quiwen’s child might have looked like if she didn’t have an abortion. There’s a Ping-Pong match between them and then a long ride down a mineshaft. There’s flying with the aide of the kid’s Ping-Pong paddle. There’s karaoke. There’s a woman that might be his mother and a woman that might be Wan Qiwen but isn’t, at least according to her.
The great thing about this 3-D sequence is that the entire hour long 3-D sequence is in one shot. It is so beautiful. The cinematographer, David Chizallet, really did a wonderful job and if I had the money to make my own film with an actual big-boy budget right now, I would hire him as my DP.
Overall, I would say that this film was pretty good, but it definitely did not live up to its hype in my opinion. I would be willing to watch it again to see if I just missed the point the first go-round but I’m not sure how effective that would be.