By Sierra Sun
Shot on 35mm film, Cities of Last Things had its World Premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. With his third feature film, Director Ho Wi Ding creates a cinematic commentary on the loss of humanity through the advancement of technology, and the idea of festering regret through a series of decisions. Cities of Last Things is a chilling example of modern society and is highly captivating through dramatic reverse chronological storytelling.
© Golden Lion | YouTube
A plunge to death. Societal implications. Moments of happiness. A world not far from ours.
A depressed Zhang Dong Ling (Jack Kao) takes his life into his own hands as he seeks revenge on the things that hurt him most -- a cheating wife, a co-worker turned enemy and a restrictive society. In a world where mass surveillance is inescapable and technology is too far advanced for aging mankind, we are quickly jolted into the reverse order of events that lead up to Zhang Dong Ling’s ultimate demise.
Told in a three-part timeline (future, present, past), we are brought to a younger Zhang (Hong-Chi Lee), the night he finds his wife with Vice Captain Shi Zhi Wei (Stone). This is the same night he finds Ara (Louise Grinberg), a notorious shoplifter. The two unlikely strangers quickly turn to each other for freedom from their circumstances -- and the only time that they are happy.
The opening shot was purposely made to shock the audience, with a seemingly clear window type of view, looking up to a man hurling himself to death and bleeding out on the pavement. The story leaves no time to breathe, no time to mourn as a the angle is reversed and comes from overhead, showing cleaning officials rushing to the scene. By playing with high angle, low angle and eye level views, Ho Wi Ding craftily reminds the audience of the fragility of humankind and the real transparency behind tragedy.
Foreign and Free
Ara, a French foreigner (and shoplifter) in Taipei presents this idea of freedom to Zhang -- a sort of rebellion to his life and his cheating wife. While Ara would be the last person Zhang would rely on, the lonely unconventional pair find comfort in each other by the end of the night. Although neither speak each other’s language, Director Ho wanted the story to stay true to reality where the characters are truly strangers.
Censorship and Mass Surveillance
Wi Ding alludes to the fine line that exists between using technology to make life better, and the disconnect it can cause between people, a sort of loss of identity. In Cities of Last Things, electronic wristbands give the illusion of health monitorization but it is also a haunting reminder that people are slaves to the system (the government and technology). Just as much as technology can provide life, it can also take life away.
When asked about how he came up with the concept for his film Ho Wi Ding was inspired by a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”
He further shares: “Regret is a feeling that has given humans a tragic, unsatisfied, deteriorated life. Everyday is worse than the day before; tomorrow is not better because we age everyday and we regret more. When I have profound regrets, I play, in my mind, the ‘would have, could have, should have’ scenario over and over again.”
Ho Di Wing also says that the story was initially brought to life seven years ago and took two years to produce.
Watch the full version of the Q & A session here:
© TIFF Talks | YouTube
The embodiment of what it means to live with regret, Cities of Last Things is an uncanny story of how each passing moment can make up a very heavy burden to carry through life. In a futuristic society where tragedy is the only way to seek freedom, Ho Wi Ding crafts a compellingly cinematic thought process of the loss in human identity through technology.
*Editor’s note: Cities of Last Things was originally screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘18
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