CITIES OF LAST THINGS (幸福城市)

Genre: Drama
Director: Ho Wi Ding
Cast: Jack Kao, Lee Hong Chi, Louise Grinberg, Ding Ning, Stone
RunTime: 1 hrs 47 mins
Rating: R21 (Sexual Scene)

Opening Day: 28 November 2018 (Southeast Asian premiere at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival)

Synopsis: Shot on expired 35mm film stock, this devastating portrait of a man unfolds—in reverse—via three women who each play a pivotal role in his identity. 

Movie Review:

Seven years have passed since we saw Ho Wi Ding’s Pinoy Sunday, a charming film about foreign workers in Taipei. The Malaysiaborn Taiwanese filmmaker is back with his most ambitious project yet. The 107 film is split into three sections. A retired law enforcer’s story is told in reverse chronology, and we see how the future, the present and the past each made him the person he is.

In a society that reminds us of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner 2049, we see the protagonist (sullenly portrayed by veteran actor Jack Kao) moping his way round the city. He is obviously an unhappy man, as you will find out through the exchanges with his ex wife, his estranged daughter and a foreign prostitute. It doesn’t help that the world has become technologically driven but terrifyingly bleak.

The second section sees the protagonist (played by the earnest Lee Hong Chi) as a hardworking cop whose world is shattered when he finds out that his wife is cheating with a superior from work (Taiwanese rock band Mayday’s Stone in a deliciously villainous role). Heartbroken, he finds solace in a foreign shoplifter.

The concluding chapter (which is chronologically the first chapter of the protagonist’s story) sheds light on how his teenage years aren’t the happiest. An episode in the police station sees Hsieh Chang Ying’s juvenile delinquent chatting up a female mobster boss (Ding Ning with a bravura performance), and finding out what the two broken souls have in common.

It is an irony that the Chinese title of this film translates to “FortunateCity” because it doesn’t look like a place where people are happy. Cheating, betrayal, violence and abandonment are just some of the things happening to the characters. Characters look tired, the sex scenes are pleasurable, and the slight hint of joy occurs during the last sequence of the 107 minute film. Bliss was there right at the beginning, but one wonders what happened as the decades passed?

The cinematography also reflects the moody atmosphere of the urban landscapes. The filmmakers’ choice of expired 35mm stock is an innovative one. With most of the events taking place at night, the grainy look adds a stylistic touch to the devastation and hopelessness experienced by the characters.

The cast members did good jobs with their characters. The three actors playing the protagonist are perfectly cast, each bringing a different kind of energy to the same man who is getting increasingly exhausted with the world. Stone will get viewers talking with his near naked screen appearance, while Ding’s emotional turn as a regretful woman won her the Best Supporting Actress prize at the 55th Golden Horse Awards.

Unlike Pinoy Sunday, this film is a gloomy look at human relationships. Our advice: don’t watch it on a depressing day.

Movie Rating:

(Betrayal, regret and all things gloomy make this gritty film a depressing viewing experience)

Reviewed by John Li at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival

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