Sunday, November 19, 2023

Long Day's Journey into Night (2018 film)


Written and directed by Bi Gan, Long Day’s Journey into Night is the story of a man who returns to his hometown to attend his father’s funeral while going on a search for a former lover whom he remains haunted by having not seen her for many years. It is a film that explores a man who had ventured himself into the world of crime as he hopes to make amends with the woman he had loved for so many years. Starring Tang Wei and Huang Jue. Long Day’s Journey into Night is a ravishing and evocative film from Bi Gan.

The film follows a man who returns to his hometown of Kaili to attend his father’s funeral as he thinks about a former lover whom he hadn’t seen for many years. It is a film with a simple premise though it has a very odd structure as its first half is a non-linear film that plays into flashbacks as a man laments over his past as well as returning home as so much has changed. Bi Gan’s screenplay doesn’t have a conventional structure as its first act is set in various parts of Kaili as it play into Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) who returns home as he thinks about his past as a young man who had lost his best friend and has engaged into an affair with his best friend’s girlfriend Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei). Throughout its first half, Luo thinks about his time with Wan but also his encounters with a gangster whom his best friend had gotten into trouble to as well as why he left Kaili only to return many years later for his late father as well as a few other things including a picture he found in his father’s clock. Its first half is this journey for Luo to find Wan as it relates to her disappearance while its second half marks a massive narrative shift that is even more mysterious.

Gan’s direction is entrancing in the way he captures a man’s journey into dealing with his past and confront the world he’s re-entered to. Shot on location in Kaili, Gan would create some unique compositions of the locations that include some mining hills, lakeside restaurants, and ruined places including flooded homes as it adds to the atmosphere of the film. The usage of wide and medium shots do play into the richness of the locations as well as these recurring images of water and cigarettes as well as images of green that includes the green dress that Wan wears. There are also some close-ups and unique camera angles that Gan has to play into some of the dream-like imagery that also include some unique and intricate tracking shots in the film. That’s all in the film’s first half and before the film’s title card would emerge as that moment would occur when Luo would walk into a porno theater wearing 3D glasses to watch something as it suddenly changes.

The film’s second half is this 59-minute sequence that occurs in unbroken continuous shot where the camera moves along endlessly only to stop when some dialogue happens. Yet, the shot is never broken as Gan utilizes all sorts of visual language to keep things going and moves whenever the scene calls for it. It is where reality and fiction blur as it play into Luo going on this journey to see if Wan is alive as it largely takes place in this small village where they’re having karaoke. There are moments that are surreal and dreamlike yet Gan doesn’t reveal what is exactly going on as he lets everything play out through the wide shots or in a close-up. There is a lot happening through in what Gan is presenting as it feels like something is unfolding while it never reveals itself into whether this is a dream or reality. Overall, Gan crafts an intoxicating and rapturous film about a man’s return to his hometown in search of his long-lost lover.

Cinematographers Yao Hung-I, Dong Jinsong, and David Chizallet do phenomenal work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural lighting for many of the scenes in the film’s first half as well as low-key colorful lighting for the scenes at night while emphasizing on neon and vibrant lighting for many of the scenes in the film’s second half as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Qin Yanan does excellent work with the editing with its usage of straight-cuts and a few rhythmic cuts for much of the film’s first half along with some low-key invisible cutting for the film’s second half to maintain that continuous presentation. Production designer Qiang Liu, with set decorators Yonghua Li, Dong Li Wang, and Changhua Wu, does brilliant work with the look of the old home that Luo lived in as well as a hotel that Wan used to stay in as well as the village in the film’s second half.

Costume designers Hua Li and Chu-Chen Yeh do fantastic work with the costumes with some of it being casual with the exception of the gorgeous green dress that Wan wears as well as some other stylish clothes the women wear including a woman that Luo meets in its second half. The sound work of Danfeng Li and Zhonglin Si is amazing for its mixing and sound design in maintaining an eerie atmosphere into its locations and how sound is presented from afar and up close as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Lim Giong and Hsu Point is incredible for its mixture of ambient textures with western-style guitars and somber electronic pieces with a soundtrack filled with Asian pop music.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Ming Dao as a traffic cop who gives Luo a message from a prisoner, Yanmin Bi as a prisoner who used to know Wan, Chun-hao Tuan as Wan’s ex-husband who runs a hotel, Chloe Maayan as a pager who runs a club, Yongzhong Chen as a crime boss named Zuo that terrorizes Luo and Wan, Hong-Chi Lee as Luo’s childhood friend Wildcat in the film’s flashbacks, and Sylvia Chang in a dual role as Wildcat’s mother that Luo meets and a mysterious red-haired woman that carries a torch as she is considered insane by the locals at the small village.

Huang Jue is incredible as Luo Hongwu as a man who returns to his hometown for his father’s funeral as he reflects on his past as well as his memories of Wan as it is this restrained and somber performance of a man haunted by the past as well as dealing with what he could remember as well as this reality that he contends with though he isn’t sure with what he’s encountering is real. Finally, there’s Tang Wei in a sensational performance as Wan Qiwen as this mysterious yet beautiful woman who was Wildcat’s lover as she engages into an affair with Luo as it is a performance full of intrigue and restraint though her character only appears in the film’s first half while Wei would appear as a completely different character in the film’s second half that is a little more fiery.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is a tremendous film from Bi Gan that features two great leading performances from Tang Wei and Huang Jue. Along with its haunting music soundtrack, ravishing visuals, offbeat narrative structure, and its exploration of memories and desires. It is an unconventional film that plays into a man’s lament over a former flame and ponders her existence in a world that has changed. In the end, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a magnificent film from Bi Gan.

© thevoid99 2023

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