LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT achieved a staggering box office of RMB 260 million on its opening day in Chinese Mainland, setting a number of records including the best single-day box office in December 2018, and the best pre-sale box office of literary film in December 2018. The severe divergence in the word of mouth goes against it. Its Douban score has dropped from 7.3 to 6.8, its Maoyan score has fallen from 3.7 to 2.7, and Taopiaopiao score down from 5.8 to 3.5.
If we put aside the question into the film from most mainland audiences, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT gets quite good grade from overseas media. Almost 600 IMDb users give it 7.2 points. Its Rotten Tomatoes freshness is 89%, with an average score at 8.9. Its MTC website score was as high as 88. In other words, it is not a “stinker”, but it has a high threshold of viewing. What does the opening-day box office of RMB 260 million really mean? What can Chinese literary films, art films and independent films draw from it?
Platform marketing of pledging love with a kiss on New Year Eve
Thanks to Tang Wei and the well-made & stunning 3D shooting in the late part, most audiences are inclined to viewing LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT as an affectional film with a strong sense of literature and art, instead of a “literary film” or “art film”. After all, Tang Wei starred so many affectional films such as FINDING MR. RIGHT and LATE AUTUMN which were filled with the sense of literature and art.
When it comes to the amazing opening-day box office in the Chinese mainland as an “independent film” or “literary film”, I’d like to present an example. North American independent film MOONLIGHT came out in October 2016. This film with the cost of USD 5 million once raked in USD 27.5 million in the United States. However, it was only screened in four cinemas in North America in the first week, achieving the box office of merely USD 400,000. With the approaching of the award presentation season and the promotion and word-of-mouth spread in the later period, it was shown in up to 1,500 cinemas. Its highest single-day box office was only USD 1.03 million on the Saturday after it had won the Oscar Best Picture. Its North American box office close to USD 28 million was accumulated in a long process.
For LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, its first-day box office of RMB 260 million was equivalent to the opening box office of USD 30 million in North America by MOONLIGHT, pretty much the performance of a classical Hollywood blockbuster.
What really made LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT gain high attention, market support and audiences was the marketing method. “Going into New Year with A Kiss”, its viral marketing on video platform TikTok, was naturally the biggest contributor. It is also the method proven successful on THE EX-FILE 3: THE RETURN OF THE EXES opened in celebration of the 2017 New Year, HOW LONG WILL I LOVE U and HELLO MR. BILLIONAIRE in 2018. However, both the marketing on video platforms and the characteristics of these films made them well-received in the tier-3 and tier-4 Chinese cities. The relaxed and comedic tone also made them popular among the audiences in the tier-1 and tier-2 cities.
From the pre-sale of more than RMB 50 million in mid-December 2018 to the amazing RMB 159 million on December 30, the pre-sale performance of Long Day’s Journey Into Night even surpassed that of Hollywood blockbusters like Fast & Furious 8 and Transformers 5, only RMB 20 million less than Avengers 3. It has to be admitted that the successful “Going into New Year with A Kiss” and eschatology marketing on the video platform was so simple and straightforward that most audiences and netizens had no time to pay more attention to the content and style of the film itself.
As far as the publicity itself is concerned, the filmmaker and the publicity side naturally intended to gain more audiences on the basis of keeping the inherent audiences. Since most ordinary audiences themselves do not have the ability to judge the film, the soaring pre-sale box office was much of the result of following the trend.
What’s more, the opening day coincided with the last day of 2018, in line with the title. This kind of promotion that plays down the content and emphasizes the form is often more direct and effective.
What’s the distance between this film and general public?
If an art film lover or literary youth goes to watch LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT with a cult-like approach, he could find it difficult to fully understand the film, even if he has read the synopsis and watched the director’s last film KAILI BLUES.
According to Douban’s synopsis, the majority of audiences may feel it’s a thriller gangster film, with some love elements, more like BLACK COAL, THIN ICE directed by Diao Yinan or WRATH OF SILENCE directed by Xin Yukun. Apparently, Bi Gan has bigger and crazier ambitions.
Although crime films such as BLACK COAL, THIN ICE and WRATH OF SILENCE also use non-linear narration, flashback and memory insertion to move forward the plot, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT has more interwoven memories and reality, and a mixture of dreams and real experiences.
For ordinary audiences who tend to think in one-way direction, most of the plots in this film are a little “scattered”. Its information delivery is too frequent and the metaphors and foreshadowing are not as direct and effective as those in normal commercial films. It has small ups and downs and slow rhythm, but often throws out an extremely important signal inadvertently.
To put it this way, the most striking difference between the story of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and most suspense and crime films is that it neither has a specific answer or riddle revelation, nor simply tells everyone “who is the killer and why”. Most art films or independent films are more of the expression of the director’s personal style and intentions. Instead, the plot seems not that important.
In fact, for many literary films, the content is not bad, but the classification of literary film makes them less impressive with the audiences. A lot of distributors and filmmakers would even manage not to bring their own films the title of “literary film”.
Although films such as BLACK COAL, THIN ICE, DEEP IN THE HEART, WRATH OF SILENCE, SONG OF THE PHOENIX and PATHS OF THE SOUL have a certain threshold to watch and require the audiences to have a certain appetite for movies and the ability to interpret art, as long as they watch with the patience, there will be few understanding obstacles. Even Jia Zhangke’s MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART and ASH IS PUREST WHITE didn’t have such a high threshold as LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT.
How would Bi Gan fare ahead with his questing for the art
When Bi Gan was familiar to more film fans with his KAILI BLUES, the industry seemed to spot the birth of a new generation of Chinese film directors. Born in 1989, he is just 30 years old this year, but has already been the youngest recipient of “the Best New Director Award” at the Golden Horse Awards.
From KAILI BLUES to LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, everyone can see the lines, plot interpretation and photography full of Wong Kar-Wai style. Securing “the Best New Director Award” at the Golden Horse Awards was just the beginning.
The participation of capital and industrialization has significantly improved the quality of the production team of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. The film’s production, photography, fine arts, music, sound effects and other casts and crews are mostly the elites who took part in the art films such as THE ASSASSIN, BLACK COAL, THIN ICE and WRATH OF SILENCE.
It was by no means accidental for the film to win the best sound, best cinematography and best original film music at the Golden Horse Awards. It also suggests that the film is first-class in terms of the technical level, industrial degree and quality of production. However, if an independent film had no strong social topic, it may not have good box office worldwide.
Although the box office of KAILI BLUES was only RMB 6.5 million, Bi Gan got RMB 20 million of investment when he began shooting LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. Be Gan acknowledged in an interview that the film was seriously overspent, as, with the 60-minute 3D full-length shot, the whole cost reached up to RMB 50 million. It is the production cost of a medium-cost Chinese film.
It is estimated that if the final box office of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is around RMB 300 million, the filmmaker can get nearly RMB 100 million of box office sharing, which is undoubtedly very successful for an independent art film. Even Jia Zhangke who has struggled for years fails to achieve such an impressive result in China.
Different from Jia Zhangke and Wong Kar-Wai, Bi Gan had bolder exploration and pursuit in his second cinema line-based film. It is known to all that Wong Kar-Wai had shot AS TEARS GO BY, DAYS OF BEING WILD and CHUNGKING EXPRESS before coming up to ASHES OF TIME with higher level of production. Most of Jia Zhangke’s early and midterm works were extremely low-budget, financed more by overseas film funds and investments. He didn’t expect too much box office and returns from the mainland.
After KAILI BLUES, whether the establishment of Dangmai Films or the closer cooperation with Taihe Media and Huace Media has brought Bi Gan better capital strength in the future exploration of the mainland film market.
Even so, the way of exploration by Wong Kar-Wai and Jia Zhangke and their adjustment of image expression in the mainland film market in the past two years are worth learning and absorbing for Bi Gan. Almost all of the new directors in mainland also gradually shifted from independent films to mainstream commercial films with higher industrialization level.
Ning Hao and Wen Muye were also extremely personalized and had strong expression of their personal will when they made initial independent films and short films, but this didn’t prevent them from producing CRAZY STONE and DYING TO SURVIVE. Independent film is able to accumulate the requirements for higher artistic level of film, which is what most low-level Chinese films lack.
Bi Gan’s commercial success on LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is bound to bring him more resources and experience in his next film. The publicity and distribution problem shouldn’t be borne by the director alone.
Through this film, Bi Gan’s special style of image and way of narration certainly will capture more audiences of this type of film than KAILI BLUES. Objectively, the normal box office of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT should be close to that of ASH IS PUREST WHITE, SHOPLIFTERS and PATHS OF THE SOUL.
Hope that Bi Gan is able to strike a better balance between personal style expression and commercial appeal in the future. Of course, all this shouldn’t be at the expense of completely losing the artistic style.