Watching Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, there can be little doubt that the director himself is a cinephile. Here, we witness touches of Tarantino, Kar-wai, Ming-liang and the biggest of them all, Tarkovsky. Yet the fanaticism Gan displays isn’t one of inspired creative force but rather of a constraining shadow. I would err, however, to call it wholly Frankensteinian. This is, after all, the same director of Kali Blues (2015).
The story concerns Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) who embarks on a journey to find his lost love Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei). Hongwu’s travels take him not just through space but also time, where the past seeps into the present eschewing the film of a linear chronology. Combined with slow camera movement, and noir tones of dark red and green, Long Day’s Journey Into Night becomes intoxicating; a contrast to Alain Resnais’ Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968) or Chris Marker’s La Jetee (1962) in which both heroes and the audience become lost within their experiences of fragmented time. But perhaps what bears discussion here is what advertisers have sold as the film’s main draw: an hour long, unbroken, 3D shot.
Late in the film, Hongwu enters a cinema, puts on 3D glasses, and we are instructed to do the same. The camera then after, like that of a developer’s in a video-game, becomes unbridled. Further cementing the connection to video-game aesthetics is the fact that the 3D seems to have been used for immersion purposes. Whereas subjects appeared flat beforehand, now they become fully rendered. Is it more than a gimmick? One can think of Godard’s use of 3D in Goodbye to Language (2014). There, Godard sought the opposite of immersion and challenged viewers through his use of 3D, displaying different images simultaneously. The tone Godard sought was in line with the avant-garde aspects he had especially been cultivating since the 80s. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is certainly its own landmark achievement, but Bi Gan is less interested in the above-type experimentalism then he is in technical expression.
Many films can be described as “dream-like” but fewer can bear the balletic distinction of Journey Into Night. The camera continually moves through walls and glides over rooftops. Perhaps most memorable is in the film’s second-half when Hongwu rides a gondola down into a nighttime festival market. The camera hangs in the air from a bird’s eye-perspective, transforming the set below into a thriving diorama. The effect here is one akin to astral projection.