A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, an art house film by Chinese director Bi Gan that includes a “single-take, hour-long dream sequence” broke records with its improbable $38 million Chinese box office debut, beating out Venom, according to Variety. How did Gan achieve this feat? By marketing the movie as a fun romance.
The movie was released on New Years Eve and timed so that when the stars kissed at the end of the movie, it would be at the stroke of midnight. As Variety reports, couples went to the movie so they could share what promotional messaging billed as a “cross-year kiss.” Many people who bought tickets for opening night came from “average Joe” viewers outside the country’s “first-tier” metropolises.
Yet when actually in the theaters, Variety reported that viewers felt like they had been manipulated into something they wouldn’t actually have spent money on:
User reviews from across the country wrote of moviegoers falling asleep within the first 20 minutes or walking out en masse. About 75% of all Maoyan users who left comments angrily blasted the film with ratings of 1 or 2 out of 10, for a dismal aggregate of 2.8. “The worst movie in history! Tricksters, thieves! I’m indignant – it’s a total bomb, the worst trash of all trash!” wrote one user in a common refrain, as the hashtag “Can’t Understand ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night” trended on social media.
In defense of himself, Bi said that he was from a “fourth-, fifth-tier city,” and that it was rude to assume that ordinary people would only want to watch blockbuster movies. But he also admitted, “I don’t necessarily think that they’ll like my movie.” Then maybe don’t trick people into watching it!