In this world, you can’t go home. Things will not be the same and everywhere, memories linger in places that once were and place remain. “Bi Gan’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” ( 地球最後的夜晚) takes the name of a famous 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning play that earned the playwright Eugene O’Neill a 1956 Tony.
The O’Neill four-act, Eugene O’Neill play takes place during one day in the life of the Tyrone family–parents James and Mary and their children Edmund and Jamie. In this portrait of despair, the father James obsesses about money because he fears dying poor. His wife became addicted to morphine after the birth of Edmund. Jamie is a womanizing alcoholic and the youngest, Edmund is in bad health, having caught tuberculosis when he was abroad.
Bi Gan’s film travels more, both metaphorically and physically. The O’Neill play was confined to one room and looks at the claustrophobic angst and anger in this one family. Bi Gan’s movie begins with a woman’s hand taking a microphone. Her nails gleam with bright red nail polish. A male voice tells us, “Anytime I saw her I knew I was in a dream again and once you know you’re dreaming, it’s an out of body experience.” The narrator continues, “sometimes you’re floating” and then he becomes more philosophical, “In my dreams, I would always wonder if my body was made of hydrogen, and then my memories would be made of stone.”
The man, Luo Hong (Huang Jue), has been dreaming so vividly that he has spoken in his sleep and the woman he’s with asks him about his dream. He can only tell her he was dreaming of “someone who disappeared, but I never knew her real name or her real age or anything about her past.” Instead of a lady in red (a color of celebration and traditionally of brides in China), she’s a woman dressed in an emerald green dress.
Luo warns us that “Memories mix truth with lies.” The death of his father brings Luo back to his hometown of Kaili. He remembers an old friend, Wild Cat (Lee Hong-chi), and a woman, Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei). He’s haunted by both, but he can only pursue one: Wan Qiwen. At his father’s restaurant, he finds a photo that will push him on this journey.
If you’re looking for concrete answers, this isn’t the film for you. Saturated colors (lensed by Yao Hung-i, Dong Jinsong and David Chizallet) bring beauty to tawdry environs as does the languid film score (Lim Giong and Point Hsu). This isn’t the China of the Beijing Olympics. This isn’t the homey environs of Taiwanese Ang Lee’s “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.” Like O’Neill’s play, the world of Bi Gan’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” is a place where home and hearth lack the warmth of hugs and well-cooked meals. Rusted steel barriers, railroad tracks, weeds, dingy rooms and broken people wander in this long journey–an insiders tour of Kaili (凯里) from a director with poetic vision who was born and raised there.
Luo tells us, “I always found myself attracted to danger” and that “the difference between films and memories is that films are always false.” Think of that before movie launches into its one-hour of continuous 3D segment. I’ve watched the movie without 3D several times and with only once. The effect of 3D is it pulls you into another dimension, separating the first 40 minutes from the longer last segment but even without 3D, Bi Gan has made a distinct separation between the two.
In my dreams, I can fly and I meet people from my past and wander into mysterious yet familiar landscapes. Bi Gan’s movie evokes feelings of freedom and intense longing that I have in my dreams, and the movie exists, like a dream, with its own internal logic.
“Long Day’s Journey into Night” won Golden Horse Awards for Best Cinematography (Yao Hung-i, Dong Jinsong and David Chizallet), Best Original Film Score (Lim Giong and Point Hsu) and Best Sound Effects (Li Danfeng and Si Zhonglin).
“Long Day’s Journey into Night” opened at the Landmark and the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena on 19 April 2019. In Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.