I don’t know if Wong-kar Wai is the “culprit” for this, but in recent years, stylized neo-noir crime stories have been widely published in China, which vary greatly in quality. All these great Chinese filmmakers seem to be trying not to copy literally, but rather to follow the path that Wai has drawn to artistic perfection with romantic crime dramas such as “Chunking Express” and “Fallen Angels”. This style is also followed by the Malaysian-born Taiwanese filmmaker Wi Ding Ho, who in “Cities of Last Things” complemented the classic neo-noir with some dystopian mood. All the same, this dystopian crime film, just like the vast majority of those filmed in Taiwan and China in recent years, cannot fit in the same sentence with Wai’s work.
Wi tried to organize his story in a non-linear way and it actually moves from the end to the beginning, so the first segment starts in the year 2056 with the suicide of an unknown person who threw herself out of a building window. We realize that it is the former police inspector, now aged Zhang Dong Ling, and through three episodes of his life we find out what happened. And the first segment, the one that takes place in the future, almost blackmirror dystopian, was by far the most interesting. We meet Dong Ling as an old man wandering the streets of a metropolis that seems even more futuristic than modern China. Everyone seems to be chipped, cloning has become the most normal thing, and everyone who can afford it uses a substance called “Rejuvenator” that makes people look younger.
The key meeting will be with the young white prostitute Ara, who will remind him of someone from his past, and after the meeting with the daughter and the woman and her lover, Dong Ling will throw himself out of the window. And that’s where the first segment of the film ends, and the story then becomes quite confusing until we realize that the plot goes backwards and that Dong Ling is now a young policeman who will arrest the same white prostitute from the first segment for shoplifting. Everything that will happen in the second and third segments will shed some light on Dong Ling’s behavior at the beginning of the film, but all the same, “Cities of Last Things” remained rather confused and sketchy.