I remember a friend said to me one time “only women get affected emotionally in relationships”. How wrong she was, it effects men and women. In Taiwanese based director Ho Wi Ding‘s Cities Of Last Things, a noir-esque triptych follows one man’s life in reverse chronological order. A reflective film that reminds is decisions we make in life when we’re young could have repercussions for the rest of your life.
We start in Cities Of Last Things in winter of 2056, Taipei Taiwan.Zhang Dong Ling (Jack Kao) is a sixty something ex-cop, a bitter man and someone who doesn’t like to be humiliated. He desires revenge especially when it involves his estranged wife Yu Fang (Liu Juei-chi). He unleashes his suppressed rage, assassinating a high ranking government officer who made his life hell, 30 years ago.
That was his future, the age of disenchantment, for the second act we find ourselves in present day. The summer and Zhang (now played by Lee Hong-Chi)is now a young cop, full of ambition but very naive. When Zhang decides to go home he finds his wife having sex with his senior officer.
Not even an bribe or invite into his department’s corruption is enough to shut him up. Zhang decides to repress his anger for the sake of his young daughter and keeping the family together. On duty he runs into a young French woman Ara (Louise Grinberg)whom he arrested earlier in the night. Both lonely, not wanting to go home, the pair spend the night together.
In the film’s last part, Age of Innocence we find ourselves in the same city in the year 2000. Female gang boss Big Sister Wang (Ding Ning) is running from the police after been ambushed. She runs into the path of a young Zhang (Hseih Chang Ying)who was trying to steal a bike. The pair find themselves arrested and handcuffed together at the Police Station. As the pair talk, they come to realise they share a past in ways they could never imagine.
The Cities Of Last Things plays like the missing pieces of the jigsaw that make up your life path. The pieces that show how vulnerable you are, volatile and self destructive Zhang is. Inspired by Paul Aster’s ‘in The Country Of Last Things’ , the cities are actually one city, Taipei. Each segment, that city plays like a different character changing depending what time of the day it is.
In the first part you could call is the bleakest, set in in a dystopian future. The population tracked by implants, the buses are driver less, Sex workers and Ai are controlled and women crave illegal rejuvenating drugs. A neon drenched city that looks as if you’ve stepped into a Ridley Scott film. A cold, calculated , terrifying world.
The film opens with a grizzly suicide which is illegal. A propaganda group protests over a loud speaker “Suicide is degeneration“. They are like a group straight out of the pages of a George Orwell’s 1984 book. An surveillance state which much the world is heading towards, a reliance on technology.
The second part is the film at its most beautiful, one of abandonment which becomes more relevant in the final act.Zhang’s younger self is finding it hard to trust anyone, you start to get a sense of his motivations which are in full swing in the first act. His emotions are scattered, no sense of direction, maybe he should have taken the bribe, but when children are involved, your own needs become secondary.
Cities Of Last Things is a character Study of Zhang. He’s a lonely person and in the middle act we see this and we also see a lost love, the one that got away. Ara the young French girl is that other lonely soul whom he forms a bond with. The one night of passion the pair share, will be a night Zhang will never forget. Even the older Zhang thinks he’s seen a ghost when he pays for a prostitute who looks like Ara. The final part is that emotional impact and answer what triggers what Zhang becomes.
Cities Of Last Of Things reminds its not just the people in our lives that shape our lives but the towns and cities we live in too. Thanks to French DoP Jean-Louis Vialard‘s cinematography, the film is richly textured, full of atmosphere, nocturnal and visually gorgeous. It gives the city life, gritty cerebral tone(shot mostly at night on 35mm) that reminds us of Wong Kar-Wai, even Gaspar Noe and Jia Zhangke.
A highly ambitious, melancholic film.
Crime, Drama | Taiwan, 2018 | 15 | Subtitles| 2019 Glasgow Film Festival | Dir.Wi Ding Ho | Jack Kao, Louise Grinberg, Ning Ding, Lee Hong-chi, Hseih Chang Ying, Liu Juei-chi