Chinese director Bi Gan’s ‘Long Day's Journey into Night’ sees backlash in China after great reviews at Cannes

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/2 17:43:39

Promotional material for Long Day's Journey into Night Photo:VCG

Award-winning director Bi Gan's latest film Long Day's Journey into Night saw a major backlash from Chinese audiences after the film debuted on Monday night, the last day of 2018.

While presales for the film surpassed The Fate of the Furious' 158.6 million yuan ($23.1 million) to reach 159.40 million yuan, according to Chinese ticketing service Maoyan more than 320,000 tickets were refunded on the film's opening day, 4.4 percent of total sales.

Despite the refunds the film still managed to pull in 264 million yuan on opening day, but critics are now attributing this to a successful marketing strategy rather than the art film actually resonating with mainstream audiences.

Bi, born in 1989, grabbed attention in the industry with his low-budget art film Kaili Blues in 2015. Even though the film took in only 6.46 million yuan in total in Chinese mainland theaters, it was widely praised for its artistic achievement by industry insiders and high hopes were placed on Bi's shoulders, especially after he won Best New Director at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards and Best Emerging Director at the Locarno International Film Festival.

Naturally, when Bi announced he was going to direct a film with well-known stars Tang Wei, Huang Jue and Sylvia Chang, expectations were set high.

However, following media headlines cheering the surprisingly high presales for the film have come articles discussing how Long Day's Journey into Night has "failed" the audience.

Polarized reviews

Long Day's Journey into Night currently holds a 2.8/10 on Maoyan from 410,000 reviews, 74.2 percent of which have given it a score of two or lower.

"I felt much better after I found out that most of the reviews were negative. I admit it, I didn't get it. I don't know what you [Bi] are thinking," netizen Dahai Shuo Ta Shi Luolikong wrote in a review on Maoyan, going on to critique the film's Chinese title, which translates to 'Last Night on Earth."

"It would be acceptable if the film had anything related to the title. Giving such a film this type of title is cheating."

Giving the film one point, the review posted on Monday has received 8,000 likes as of Wednesday.

On Chinese media review site Douban, whose user base tends to favor art films, Bi's work has a higher score of 6.8/10, with 35.5 percent of reviews giving it four out of five stars and 29.3 percent three stars.

On Western film sites, most reviews for Long Day's Journey into Night came after its Cannes premieres in May 2018 and are even higher - 8.9/10 on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.3/10 on IMDB.

"A densely layered and slowly mesmerizing cinematic feat," Hollywood Reporter writer Jordan Mintzer wrote.

False marketing?

There is no doubt that the frenzy of presales and high opening day box office was the result of the film's "successful" marketing strategy.

Playing on the film's Chinese title, the film's marketing team encouraged couples to attend the 9:50 pm showing of the film on December 31 so they could spend the last night of the year with their partners.

With this romantic suggestion, audience attention toward the film quickly surged. According to a report on WeChat blog Yule Ziben Lun, after lead actress Tang Wei released a promotional video on short video platform Douyin (Tik-tok in the West) on November 30, it became that day's No.4 trending video with 3.70 million views. 

However, while most audiences went in expected something relaxing and easy to swallow, what they actually got was a very personal art house film.

Many industry analysts are blaming the film's marketing strategy for the poor reviews of the film, as the advertising set up audience expectations for a completely different film.

This negative audience reaction is reflected in the film's box-office rankings. While it debuted at No.1 on Monday, it quickly fell to No.5 on Tuesday, earning only 11.15 million yuan - a 95.7 percent drop.

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