Netflix's 'Cities of Last Things' presents an interesting reverse take on questions related to life, love and death
Coming from the Malaysian director Ho Wi-ding, 'Cities of Last Things' is an intriguing, sci-fi drama that completely wins over the reverse-chronological order writing device.
First released in 2018 at the Toronto International Film Festival, 'Cities of Last Things' was named the winner of the Platform Prize, an award presented to films of "high artistic merit that also demonstrate a strong directorial vision." There, Toronto festival director and CEO Piers Handling described the film as “a very twisting interior tale of a man trying to exorcise his demons".
A Taiwan/China/France/US co-production, 'Cities of Last Things' is a story about a common man who has extraordinary events in his mundane life, according to the official synopsis. The film depicts the turn of events in the protagonist's life through three eras, three seasons, three nights, in the same city, as told with reverse chronology.
'Cities of Last Things' opens with the suicide of Taiwanese cop Zhang Dong Ling and then – in reverse chronological order – tells the story of three major incidents in his life, which leads to the fateful decision.
The story then follows him, a depressed, ex-police officer pining for a long lost love and fighting with his cheating wife and their bitter relationship. Through Zhang's character and his story on 'Cities of Last Things', director Ho Wi-Ding explores the philosophical questions behind life, love, and death.
Each of the three segments in Zhang's life that are explored through the movie, draws from a new genre. The first segment is a science fiction story that is set in a dystopian Taipei in the year 2056. The second segment is a film noir segment that focuses on Zhang's earlier job as a police officer. And finally, the third segment is a melodrama set in the late nineties and tells the story of his childhood encounter with a local organized female mob boss at the police station, who shares an important secret with him, at that point, a teenage delinquent.
The character of Zhang is portrayed by Jack Kao in the first segment, Lee Hong-chi in the second, and Hsieh Chang-Ying in the third. The cast also includes Huang Lu and Louise Grinberg.
Like several other popular backward narratives such as 'Memento' and 'Irreversible', first impressions of 'Cities of Last Things' is that it is highly confusing. However, this impression quickly fades away, revealing the traumatic moments that led Zhang to his fate.