I cannot describe the experience of watching Long Day's Journey into Night other than being like a dream. Each scene goes by and goes like a dream, the dialogue between the characters is like a dream, the flow back and forth that feels like a dream, and the story is also like a dream. I, who decided to watch the film at midnight, finished it at 3 am and felt that 2 hours passed like a dream. An experience different from the usual viewing experience.
Actually, the story that this Chinese film has is not that complicated. Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) returned to his hometown, Kaili, to attend his father's funeral. He remembers the death of his old friend, Wildcat (Lee Hong-chi), and wants to find his old love that he keeps reminiscing about, Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei). Such a story opens up a lot of opportunities, whether this film wants to be an ordinary drama or a thriller or a mystery, but Bi Gan - writer and director - decided to make this film a drama but not an ordinary drama (I also find it difficult to explain).
"I'm dreaming again. And if you realize that you are dreaming, it is an out-of-body experience , ”Luo says at the start of the film. The film is 138 minutes long and feels like a dream. During half of the film, the plot of the film goes back and forth between the past and the present, so the only way I can tell which is which is by looking at Luo himself.
This film reminds me of Nicolas Winding Refn's film, Only God Forgives , where the entire film moves in a floating, not knowing whether what happened on the screen really happened or was just a parable. These two films are both interesting, and even though I really like both films, I still feel that something is missing. As the film progresses, there are no emotional bonds that link me to the story, so what I like only comes from a technical point of view.
Don't mess around, Long Day's Journey into Night is a very beautiful film to look at. The colorful lights play at night that often decorate the screen does make the film feel more magical. Extremely long and long shots often show how visually appealing this film is, and I can say that's what I enjoyed the most about this film. But unfortunately I can't be this enthusiastic when talking about the story.
As I said before, the story of this film is really simple if you pay attention. Bi Gan is ambitious about making this film break even more than the original story, by making us think. Is it working? I might say no. Indeed, the dialogue between the characters that really plays on the audience's imagination is interesting to watch, but it is not uncommon for me to watch it find it difficult to grasp what they really mean. "So what the hell is he talking about?" Maybe it's because my imagination still can't grasp the character's meaning, or I need to watch a few more times.
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That also ended with the end that I didn't feel anything with each character. At times when the audience might need to sympathize with Luo, I felt lost. Maybe because the film's plot is very slow, coupled with the dialogue and behavior of the karatker that I find difficult to catch, so I can't feel the emotional connection between me and the character. Coupled with stories that often jump forward, then jump backwards, I easily get lost in the middle of the story.
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But what really got me interested again was the middle of the film. Yes, this is the part that many people talk about, the part that highlights what Long Day's Journey into Night really is. A long take that is very smooth and neat for 59 minutes until the film is finished. And this is not a long take like 1917 , where the film cleverly makes the film as if it was taken one take with clever editing . Here, shooting was actually done for 59 minutes without any interruption or a cut .
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We are taken to a cave, we follow Luo on a motorbike, we follow Luo down by hanging from a rope (my favorite moment is because the film runs very smoothly even though it seems very difficult to make), we circle the small town at night. For 59 minutes little dialogue takes place, and only a few characters speak, but my attention is drawn to how perfect this scene is. This long scene is also for the first time they tell their story linearly, no time skips anymore.
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Of course what I enjoy doing is how they can subtly and smoothly render this scene. There are even times when the characters play ping pong and play billiards. How can they do it all without fail, I thought, amazed. This scene persistently took 2 months, of which one month for planning and rehearsal and one month for filming. "It takes five shots," said Bi Gan to No Film School .
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David Chizallet, one of the three cinematographers who worked on the film, was tasked with this intricate scene. "One month of preparation is the shooting. It was the greatest production experience of my life, ”said Chizallet in the same interview.
For 59 minutes, the film feels more and more like a dream, but now the film has even more purpose. Luo constantly encountered unexpected events but, like a dream, it continued and did not even feel surprised or felt that anything was wrong. Like at the beginning of the scene where he meets a mysterious young man wearing a skull mask, and is instead invited to play ping pong to be shown the way out. The story of the film, which is increasingly open, becomes more interesting, and I am also interested again in what Luo will meet next.
Long Day's Journey into Night is not an easy film to digest for audiences who want to follow a simple story. With the film's unreal feel and dialogue that easily strays the audience's mind, I was fortunate to be able to focus my attention back on the last scene that finally made me like this young director's film, what's interesting is also his second film.