NZIFF 51: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Directed by Bi Gan

Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a delicate and ethereal Chinese drama, set in and around the Southeast mainland city of Kaili. The film contains a simple, loose narrative structure and is essentially split into two parts: the melancholy and disorienting first half which bounces between flashbacks and present day, and the ambitious, dream-like second half consisting of one, unbroken shot filmed in 3-D.

Although the fragmented plot is bound to draw heavy criticism, patient viewers are sure to find it remarkably simple. We follow Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) as he returns to his hometown of Kaili following the death of his father. Drifting through the scenes in a disassociated gloom, Luo is haunted by his memories – specifically the death of his friend Wildcat, and the lost love of the mysterious Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei).

The first half of the film is presented in the form of vague recollections, showing a man drifting through his present with astounding apathy as he searches for both the woman of his past and the clarity of these memories. As Luo moves closer toward reconciliation with his enigmatic lover, he meets a collection of broken people, all unfulfilled in their reality and missing an essential component for ongoing happiness. Director, Bi Gan, demonstrates an immense level of comfort and skill here, allowing the film to gracefully unfold at a pace that feels at times on the edge of becoming suddenly stationary.

The characters we meet – and the narrative drive they offer Luo in his search – reflect the inner turmoil of Luo; that the past can be fixed and the present made whole simply by obtaining the object of his dreams. This infuses a sense of blind, hopeful devotion to his actions, finally leading him to a decrepit karaoke bar in apocalyptic surroundings, where all around him reality seems to be crumbling and decaying into misery.

The second half of the film is what many viewers will attend a screening to witness, the hour-long 3-D tracking shot which follows Luo through a series of labyrinthian areas, as he confronts his inner self and attempts to transform his waking anxieties into a fresh and comforting narrative.

In this dream state, the messiness of reality is cleaned into a cohesive journey – the unbroken camera shot, a natural sense of progression toward finality and conclusion, symbolic objects and situations that provide each character with resolution and the pleasant easiness of manufactured reality. In this world, the missing pieces of each character are readily available and only require the completion of a minor task to obtain, contrasting the hopelessness of chasing these impossible dreams in reality.

As the film settles on its final, lingering shot, we’re reminded of a single interaction between Luo Hongwu and Wan Qiwen; the exchange of the eternal for the transitory, and that often the comfort of dreams provide a temporary wholeness that reality is incapable of delivering, no matter how far or deep the search may be.

~Oxford Lamoureaux

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