• 27 Jul - 02 Aug, 2019
  • Mag The Weekly

Taiwanese film Cities of Last Things goes from the future back into the past to retrace the existence of a man through his relationships with several women at different stages of his life. Though the tripartite, time-hopping structure isn’t exactly new, what is different here is that the story is told in fully reverse chronological order, so themes such as memories, nostalgia and the root or source of certain decisions or behaviour can all be explored. Though it takes a little while for the film to find its footing.

After a literally smashing prologue, the first segment, set in the winter of 2056 in Taipei, looks at the actions of the stern sixty-something Zhang Dong Ling. He thinks nothing of marching into a hall where a ballroom-dancing competition is ongoing to roughen up the poor man dancing with Yu Fang (Liu Juei-chi) who is technically still his wife because he refuses to divorce her over an incident that occurred 30 years earlier. He also visits their semi-estranged daughter (Shin Yin), who is about to move away, and a foreign prostitute (Louise Grinberg) who seems to remind him of someone he used to know. The most vicious and incriminating scene, however, involves Zhang’s visit to a hospital, where he settles a score with an old acquaintance in a very brutal fashion, though that is certainly not the first – or should that be last? – time that Zhang resorts to violence.

Cities of Last Things has a puzzle-box structure that makes it seem complex and that tasks us with teasing out allusions and associations that a straighter telling would miss, but emotionally it is also simple: Nestled in the middle of this loop-the-loop enigma, skewering the slippery narrative to its timeline like a pin through the heart, it’s a love story.