For a day, the hottest movie in China wasn’t a superhero blockbuster, but rather an arthouse noir with a 59-minute dream sequence shot in one take.
On Monday, director Bi Gan’s critically-acclaimed Long Day’s Journey Into Night raked in an astonishing $37.9 million in its box office debut, beating out studio heavyweight Venom and other mainstream offerings. But then, the following day, Long Day‘s ticket sales dropped off sharply, bringing in only $1.5 million on Tuesday.
What could explain such a steep roller coaster? False advertising, apparently.
A number of Chinese viewers believed the film would actually play out as a romantic comedy thanks to a savvy marketing campaign that suggested a couples-friendly experience. The first screenings were scheduled for 9:50 p.m. so that the film, which features a kiss between its two protagonists in the final scene, would end at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve — encouraging audience members to share a “cross-year kiss” as well.
“Do you know what kind of sweet talk you’ll use to invite someone to the last film of 2018, ‘The Last Night On Earth?'” a promotional message said, referencing Long Day’s Journey Into Night‘s Chinese title.
But the film, which earned rave reviews following its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, could be described more like a challenging drama — that also happens to switch from 2D to 3D midway through. “A densely layered and slowly mesmerizing cinematic feat,” the Hollywood Reporter said of the movie in its review.
Chinese moviegoers were not impressed.
“The worst movie in history! Tricksters, thieves! I’m indignant – it’s a total bomb, the worst trash of all trash!” one user on the Chinese movie website Maoyan wrote. The movie has a 2.8 out of 10 rating overall on the site, with other reviews describing mass walkouts within the first 20 minutes and audience members falling asleep.
The challenging narrative wasn’t entirely to blame either, according to some Chinese social media users. “Those who say that the film had artistic meanings that we’re just unable to understand, please go eat shit,” wrote a commenter on the microblogging site Weibo.
Gan, 29, defended the marketing of the film at an event last month, saying his “colleagues promoting it didn’t steal or rob — they just used their own abilities and knowledge to do their task. I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.
“I myself am from a fourth, fifth-tier city,” he added. “Are you saying that people there should only watch those kinds of [blockbuster] films? I’ve never believed that, although I don’t necessarily think that they’ll like my movie.”
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is Gan’s second feature film. His first, Kaili Blues, also garnered critical acclaim abroad but made just $942,000 in his native China during a brief theater run.