Director: Bi Gan
Cast: Tang Wei, Huang Jue, Sylvia Chang
RunTime: 2 hrs 20 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Opening Day: 5 December 2018 (Singapore premiere at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival)
Synopsis: More than a decade after narrowly escaping death in his provincial hometown, Luo Hong-wu returns to search for a former lover whom he cannot forget. As he wanders the town’s ruins, he tries to reconstruct a hazy past enmeshed with dreams and fantasies – while being haunted by his long-murdered childhood sidekick Wildcat and the ghost of a woman that may or may not be his lost love.
We haven’t seen Mainland Chinese director Bi Gan’s directorial debut Kaili Blues. But from what we read on the Internet, it seems like an arthouse favourite with a 40 minute long take. In his second feature film, Bi takes it one notch up by featuring a long take that is almost an hour long, and gasp – in dazzling 3D.
The film has nothing to do with Eugene O’Neill’s play of the same name. Instead, it is about a man from Kaili in Southwest Chinawho is searching for a woman he was once in love with. He transcends from one space to another, trying to find an answer amidst dreams, realities and memories.
Stretching for more than two hours, this film offers an experience more than anything else. Viewers hoping to be moved by a romantic story will be disappointed. There isn’t much logic in its plot, as you’ll realise about 15 minutes into the movie. The pacing reminds you of Wong Kar Wai’s arthouse works, where quoteworthy voiceovers make you feel like you are treading between dreamscapes.
The protagonist is played by a rugged but good looking Huang Jue (A Tale of Three Cities) and it is easy to be charmed by his portrayal of a dreamer. His female co star is Tang Wei (The Golden Era) who is as mesmerising as ever. The star studded cast also includes familiar faces like Sylvia Chang (Shuttle Life), Lee Hong Chi (Cities of Last Things) and popular Taiwanese TV star Ming Dao (The Prince Who Turns into a Frog). Because there isn’t much story development per se throughout the film, the actors also do not need to showcase their prowess. That’s not a bad thing though, because this film is essentially a mood piece to be enjoyed like a piece of artwork.
The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the long climatic take which brings viewers from one location to another (watch out for the impressive sequence where the two leads travel in the sky, enjoying a bird’s eye view of the houses on the ground). While some may diss this as a gimmicky approach to lure viewers (viewers in Chinareportedly have mistaken this film as a romcom, bringing in impressive box office numbers), it is still a technical feat that is worth commending. The film took home three well deserved prizes at the 55th Golden Horse Awards: Best Cinematography, Best Original Film Score and Best Sound Effects.
As mentioned earlier, this film is an experience which no words can describe. If you have the time to spare, let yourself go and immerse in this film before getting back to the hustles and bustles of life.
(An experiential film that requires you to be fully immersed a dreamlike atmosphere to fully appreciate it)
Review by John Li at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival