Taking place across multiple decades, Cities Of Last Things is an inventive triptych narrative movie from Malaysian-born Taiwanese writer-director Ho Wi Ding. It presents three tragic episodes related to one man, in reverse chronological order, so as to examine how these events informed the way his life would develop.
Jack Kao plays the oldest incarnation of the man, Lao Zhang, in the opening section, which takes place in a Blade Runner-ish future in, appropriately enough, the year 2049; saying that, in terms of Philip K Dick, the lower-key design of this dystopia is more in line with Minority Report. It’s an era of instant rejuvenation serums, with hints of cloning, too.
This act sees Lao Zhang attempt to murder three people of interest, while also interacting with a young sex worker (Louis Grinberg) who resembles someone he used to know. With the period’s technology, maybe it’s the same person.
The middle follows a younger version of the man (Lee Hong-chi) as a cop, revealing some relationships that explain his later targets of assassination. His principled stand against corruption in his department ends up biting him, and he takes a nightlong detour with Ara (Grinberg again), who he’d previously arrested for stealing.
The final section largely focuses on gangster boss Big Sister Wang (Ding Ning, a magnetic delight), to whom the sullen teenage version of our protagonist ends up having an unexpected connection.
From an outward glance at more spoiler-heavy descriptions of Cities Of Last Things’ puzzle-box narrative, one might be inclined to think this a sometimes cruel work when it comes to its women, but there is palpable compassion for them amid the fatalistic noir trappings. Additionally, how toxic masculinity, driven by one’s environment, poisons relationships and social standings is among the driving themes of the script. It’s a tough, emotionally raw watch at times, but always enthralling, thanks in part to the textures of the neon-heavy 35mm cinematography.
Cities Of Lost Things was seen and reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2019.