Even before a monumental one-hour continuous tracking shot that ends the film, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” makes the viewer feel the surreal charm of being thrust into a dream state.
Chinese film director Bi Gan, with his sophomore film, wears his cinematic heart on his sleeve. At 29 years of age, Gan was born a decade after Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” a film “LDJIN” emulates heavily, at least in its first hour. During the second hour, there’s little doubt that we’re in the presence of greatness, no matter how much said eminence relies on standing on the shoulders of previous movie giants.
There’s too many elements of masterful filmmaking for this movie not to be about something, but what exactly it is “ain’t exactly clear,” to borrow the words of the Buffalo Springfield.
On one hand, the hour-long tracking shot could kindly be called stunt filmmaking. After all, previous films by equally prestigious directors have unwound as a single take: Aleksandr Sukurov’s 2002 “Russian Ark” and Mike Figgis’ 2000 “Timecode,” come to mind.
Yet Gan has managed to make his single take burst at the seams with creativity, and more importantly, a sense of anxiety at what will come next and then surprise when something totally unexpected happens.
The first part of the film deals with flashbacks and flash-forwards, revolving around a lost love along with appropriate symbolic items like a clock that, when removed from the wall, leaves behind a circular ghost shadow in contrast to the decrepit faded bleakness of the wall. The film’s opening logo all of a sudden appears at about the 112-minute mark, which is a signal for the audience to don their 3D glasses.
An article from the online film publication Indiewire reveals that Gan shot the continuous sequence seven times. At one point, the moving camera seems to float above the action and hoover to the next locale, which was accomplished by having a magnet on the camera being attached to a drone with Ninja-like precision.
As an aside, the Chinese title “Di qiu zui hou de ye wan” bears little resemblance to the American title, which is not a remake of a celebrated play by Eugene O’Neill.
The 3D sequence starts with the lead character, Luo (Jue Huang), sitting down in a movie theater only to leave by an exit that takes him into a tunnel. After exiting the tunnel, he gets a lift on a motorbike to a pool hall. It’s here that the first of several moments occur that makes the action seem correct and error free. For instance, one of the characters must sink the 8-ball or the whole shot is ruined. Then there’s the drone shot that takes the audience of a whirlwind tour of the compound our hero is immersed in, complete with a horse carrying a basket of apples that upsets the cart. (The horse will make a repeat appearance when we least expect.)
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” begs the audience to immerse themselves in the experience of the film as both an art house specimen as well as a full-fledged movie, where every question that’s asked gets an eventual reply.
Also premiering in Houston this week is Zhang Yimou’s “Shadow,” a tale of court intrigue and epic battle that takes place in the Late Eastern Han dynasty, circa. 200 CE. The era was marked by bloody battles among the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu.
Zhang Yimou is hands down the top living movie director in China, and has been since the debut of “Red Sorghum” in 1987, and belongs to the Chinese Fifth Generation.
Much of “Shadow” unwinds with heady dialogue that places the participants in a kind of royal quandary. When the battlefield explodes in the film’s later act, we see a brigade that uses weaponized umbrellas where the canopy of the device is composed of blades that unfold to create havoc.
The main selling point of “Shadow” is a color palette that favors black and white sets with limited bleached out colors. The set design is off the charts brilliant, with the yin-yang symbol a consistent visual metaphor.
In more than one aspect, “Shadow” is a beautiful film that rewards it audience with dynamic battle sequences spaced out between royal skullduggeries.
Both “Shadow” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” unwind exclusively at the AMC Studio 30 this week. Additionally, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” will unwind at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on July 20 and July 21.