How a highly anticipated NYE Chinese art film became the most nonsensical movie of 2018

Society & Culture
Long Day’s Journey Into Night Poster


Long Day’s Journey Into Night 地球最后的夜晚 is an art film directed by a rising Chinese director, Bì Gàn 毕赣, starring the famous Chinese actress Tāng Wéi 汤唯. Due to the buzz that surrounded Bi’s debut film, Kaili Blues 路边野餐, Long Day’s Journey Into Night has gained an insane amount of attention from production companies and the public, compared with other Chinese art films. However, after its release, the film sparked controversy over its vague narrative. Many viewers claim that it was the most nonsensical film they have seen in 2018.


Director Bi Gan


It is unusual for indie arthouse films to attract the notice that Long Day’s Journey Into Night has. Yet it merits attention because of Bi as well as the film’s cast and cinematic techniques. This includes the casting of the acclaimed Chinese actress Tang, which has surprised the industry. Tang is best known for her performance in Lust, Caution (2007), directed by Ang Lee, who won two Academy Awards for Best Director for his work on Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Life of Pi (2012). In addition, Bi’s integration of 2D and 3D filming is another wow factor for this art film.


A still shot of Tang Wei in the film.


The film’s marketing team decided to market it as a “New Year’s Eve Must-See” movie because the direct English translation of the title is “The Last Night on Earth.” As the core of the New Year’s Eve marketing campaign, the team asked viewers to watch the film with someone important and encouraged theaters to air the film right at 9:50 p.m. so it would end exactly at midnight on January 1, 2019.

Thanks to marketing endeavors, the expectation for Long Day’s Journey Into Night was extremely high, but the movie soon experienced a huge backlash after its premiere. It scored a $262 million pre-sale record, but the box office dropped to $11 million on the second day. Most audiences have not understood the film at all and think it is extremely boring and a waste of their New Year’s Eve, while some film critics insist that it is a well-crafted art film and that it was just not meant for the mass public.

General viewers and professional critics have expressed different opinions over the failure of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The former blame the director for unnecessarily obscure plots. Netizens who have seen the movie have left negative comments such as “I would rather spend that two hours on Weibo” and “The Sleepiest Night on Earth.” On the other hand, a number of film critics and aficionados question the marketing team for marketing the film to the wrong audience and criticize the public for having superficial tastes.


Film comments from Weibo: “The Sleepiest Night On Earth”, “People say the film is bad, I didn’t agree with that at first, but after I’ve watched it, I’d rather spend that 2 hours on social media.”


The attempt to mass-market an art film is always risky, not only in mainland China but also in Hollywood. The movie producers might have been too positive about thinking the Chinese audience was open to seeing a non-blockbuster film on a festive day. After the failure of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, I am afraid that the Chinese art film industry is facing an unprecedented slump period.