Long Day's Journey into Night review Huang Jue

Year: 2019
Director(s): Bi Gan
Writer(s): Bi Gan
Region of Origin: China
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 140 mins

Synopsis: A man searches for a woman he once know as his memories slip away.

Long Day’s Journey into Night will absolutely be the year’s best ghost story, but not in the traditional sense. As a character mentions in the highly reflexive film, there are many types of ghosts. The ones in Bi Gan’s film, are in fact regrets, failures and lost love. These specters haunt both viewer and Bi’s characters in an intoxicating tapestry that explores truth and fallacy in memory, dreams and reality itself. It’s unlike anything out there right now, told with a stunning amount of expressive skill. Anchored by atmosphere and profoundly palpable emotion, Bi harnesses moving performances from stars Tang Wei and Huang Jue. It all adds up to an unforgettable journey, that, above all, is an experience so beautiful, it makes our bones will ache for more. 

The story centers around Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue). Reflecting on a past full of failure, his life has been marked by the people and time that have slipped through his fingers. Recalling a late friend that he let down and the nameless woman (Tang Wei) possible tied to his fate, Hongwu grows increasingly bent on closure that may not be possible. Through his memories, he searches for the mistress of his past. As he clings to the fragrance of a time long gone, he attempts to bring failed dreams into reality. 

Long Day's Journey into Night review

What’s immediately apparent, is that Bi isn’t interested in a film that feels like a straight line. Hongwu easily admits that his memories can’t be trusted, mentioning early on that films are fake and that memories are a mixture of truth and lies. With this as sort of the film’s cypher, Bi approaches the film untethered from familiar narrative vernacular. He’s speaking strictly through emotive imagery, narrative poeticism and piercing sensory overload. Even the film’s atypical two act structure is one that folds in on itself. While the story initially is a haze of past, present and future, it all goes out the window for the film’s second half, which is a much lauded single-take climax that unfolds for nearly an hour.

The film’s second half is where Bi’s tale really thrives. After setting the stage, all bets are off. The pieces to Bi and Hongwu’s riddles begin to lock together in a way that makes emotional sense, rather than a to b logic. It’s here where a staggering fairy tale takes things over the edge. Shot in 3D (I screened it in 2D), Bi follows Hongwu through what feels like a journey through the underworld of his subconscious. Breaking the fourth wall in more ways than one, the meta-climax is one of jaw-dropping craftsmanship. Bi’s camera glides and soars amidst a sleepy town of eccentric oddities, evoking the way that Hongwu becomes progressively untethered to reality. It all finally ends with an act so otherworldly and transcendent, we don’t know what’s hit us.

Long Day's Journey into Night review Hong-Chi Lee

Given Bi’s approach to the film, the performances operate on another wavelength as well. Though the film is told from the perspective of Huang Jue’s Hongwu, his performance is intimately tethered to Tang Wei’s mystery woman. Together, the pair find each other throughout the story’s twisty enigmas. Since the film deliberately forces us to fill in some gaps, we’re left to lean solely on Huang and Tang’s chemistry. Needless to say, both performers come through in a way that matters. Each bring to life intangible ideas that shift and evolve just when we feel like we’ve figured things out. 

From the story’s ethereal nature to its existential conundrums, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a dense but rewarding experience. Bi is a confident master of the art form, speaking on primal terms while challenging each viewer to turn inward. Watching the film is like staring into the abyss of both life’s delicate mysteries and its most awe-inducing bliss. We’re completely transfixed from start to finish. This definitely won’t be for everyone, but it’s also a work of art that digs deep and explores the subconscious dreams that make us who we are.