Directed by Ho Wi Ding, ‘Cities of Last Things’ tells the story of one man through the three most eventful nights of his life. Following a non-chronological order, it starts with the death of a man and his story, going back to the fond memories of childhood, the time before he was plunged into the mess that is life. Each section plays out like its own self-contained story, and yet, we know that they are all part of the same puzzle. Individually, they work like a short film; each of them evoking different emotions regarding the protagonist. They work like three distinct musical pieces that are perfectly able to hold the audience under their spell, on their own. And when they all come together in harmony, they tell a completely different story. ‘Cities of Last Things’ works somewhat similarly. It has an intro, it has a coda, and everything in between has its own rhythm.
This film is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you love character-driven movies then perhaps you could have the inclination to enjoy it. Love, loss, revenge, redemption, this story has various facets. Here, I have tried to explore all of their meanings. Before delving into that discussion, a fair warning. If you haven’t yet seen the film, catch it on Netflix.
Summary of the Plot
Zhang Dong Ling is an ordinary man. He is a police officer; he has a wife and a daughter. In his late 60s, he has seen the world change in front of his eyes, from police chasing a culprit to the law enforcement using chips embedded inside everyone’s skin to locate a murderer. But there are things in his past that he can neither forgive nor forget. He has held on to his morbid marriage almost as resolutely as he has held on to his desire for revenge. The film witnesses his actions in the present and then goes one step back to give us a perspective, to show us what made him the man he is now. The events in the film take place in reverse. While this provides a narrative structure to the story, it can also get a bit confusing, if you are the one to allow your attention to drift easily. To make things simpler here, we have approached the story from a linear narrative, beginning with the end of the film which is what becomes the first most impactful event in Dong Ling’s life, the one that steers his decisions.
Dong Ling and Big Sis Wang