Starring Wei Tang. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
A battered protagonist with an uncertain past returns to his hometown in China’s remote southwest and finds a place of mouldy, rain-soaked alleys, shuttered mines, misremembered dreams, and trains that noisily bisect the darkness.
The man narrates his strangely elliptical journey with a combination of hard-boiled, film-noir resignation and poetry courtesy of Bi Gan, the movie’s brash young writer-director.
That describes Bi’s previous feature, Kaili Blues, as well as his new one, which has nothing to do with Eugene O’Neill’s famous play.
The movie’s Chinese title translates to something like Last Night on Earth; viewers looking for literary, cinematic, or even sci-fi clues as to meanings behind the main characters’ beautifully opaque actions will be left scratching their heads.
As main man Luo Hongwu (Jue Huang) explains, after attending his father’s funeral, “The difference between film and memory is that film is always false.”
Maybe. But there’s little to indicate that what’s rattling around inside Luo, or in the brain-box of Wan Qiwen (Lust, Caution’s glamorous Wei Tang)—a mysterious, green-dressed woman from his past—is any more reliable.
Luo is looking for Wan, and also searching for what happened to his mother, who disappeared when he was young.
Then there’s a childhood pal called Wildcat, seemingly murdered when both men knew Wan.
Are these people and events more deeply connected than they seem to be, or might they be tangentially related fragments of thought?
There are no cellphones or other cultural clues to nail down time periods, and the same dialogue—spare, oblique, and something to do between lighting cigarettes—keeps showing up in multiple mouths.
The entire second (and livelier) half of the two-hour-plus saga, shown in 3-D in some venues, is presented as one unbroken take.
The director also did this in Kaili, albeit with a much smaller budget, no marquee stars (Taiwan great Sylvia Chang shows up, too), and without the talent of French cinematographer David Chizallet.
The latter deployed a remarkable array of drones and hand-held cams—using a palette dominated by jade and burgundy—to create the somnambulant images that give this Journey a David Lynch–meets-Fellini feeling.
One can safely argue that a movie this gorgeous certainly wouldn’t suffer from having a stronger storyline.
But the trip is well worth taking—if you’re not too hung up on destinations.