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Cities of Last Things

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Cities of Last Things Movie Poster Image
Sex, violence, suicide in thoughtful noir drama.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 107 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 

Violence

A man commits suicide by jumping out of a building; the camera films from the ground up so that when the man lands, he lands head first on the screen, with blood. Later, another character commits suicide by jumping out of a building. Character choked to death. Character shot and killed in a drive-by. Character killed by suffocation. Lead character imagines walking in on his wife having sex with another man, shooting them both, then shooting himself in the head. Characters beaten and bloodied, punched, kicked. Dead body shown in a dumpster with arm severed; character uses the severed arm to sneak into a hospital, using the hand for the security scans. 

Sex

Brief nudity (breasts). There are some graphic sex scenes. A man walks in on his wife having sex with a colleague from the police department. She's handcuffed to the bed, and both are shown having sex and moaning and passionately yelling. Characters walk in on a couple having sex at a party. While in a futuristic brothel, lead character passes a room in which a man is having sex with a blow-up doll on top of him while he wears virtual reality glasses. Lead character spends time with a prostitute who he thinks looks like a former lover; she offers different sexual positions and types of sex to the man. 

Language

"Hell," "ass." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking. Marijuana smoking. Wine and beer drinking. Characters shoot up a futuristic drug that keeps them looking young. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Cities of Last Things is a 2018 Taiwanese drama that shows three traumatic incidents, in reverse chronology, from a broken ex-cop's life. The movie is Mandarin with English subtitles. A man commits suicide by jumping off a building; his face lands on the camera, followed by blood. Shortly after, another character commits suicide by jumping off a building. Lead character has a brief fantasy of walking in on his wife having sex with his colleague in the police department, shooting them both, then shooting himself in the head. Characters choked to death, smothered to death. Image of a dead man in a dumpster with his arm cut off. Fighting with punches and kicks. Character killed in a drive-by shooting. Brief female nudity -- breasts. There's graphic sex. The lead character walks in on his wife having loud passionate sex with a man the lead character works with. In another scene, two characters walk in on a couple having sex in a bedroom at a party. While in a futuristic brothel (part of the movie is set in the year 2049), the lead character sees a man having sex with a blowup doll while wearing virtual reality glasses. Marijuana smoking, cigarette smoking. In the futuristic scenes, characters use syringes to shoot up a drug that keeps them looking younger.

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What's the story?

In reverse chronology, CITIES OF LAST THINGS traces the life of Dong-ling Zhang, a former cop who in the year 2049 works as a construction site security guard, through three traumatic life events. At the end of his life, Dong-ling is hired to kill a government minister, meets a prostitute who is a Doppelganger of a former lover, and remains resentful over his wife's infidelities from thirty years ago, yet stays married to her out of a stated desire to have a "normal family" for his young adult daughter. In the next act, Dong-ling is a cop in 2019 who catches his wife cheating on him, then finds solace in the arms of a French woman he had previously arrested for shoplifting. In the final act, Dong-ling is a troubled teenager who has just been arrested, and waiting to go to jail while sitting next to "Big Sis" Wang, a notorious local gangster who he initially finds insufferable, until Wang reveals a shocking truth to him. 

Is it any good?

This film is a fascinating, surprising, and often beautiful (in spite of the shocking violence) character study of the traumatic events in one man's life. These traumatic events, told in three acts of reverse chronology, with a brief epilogue, shape, uplift, knock down, then ultimately break this man. We meet Dong-ling Zhang at the end of his life, and try to make sense of his violent tendencies, his jealousies and resentments, his loneliness and hallucinations. As his past his revealed in subsequent acts, we begin to understand how he turned out the way he did, even if we're left to wonder if the man's complexities and predilection for violent behavior is entirely the result of these events. 

Cities of Last Things is an excellent movie, but not perfect. There are moments, like the film's opening scene, that feel more than a little heavy-handed and gratuitous. Despite these moments, the movie on the whole strikes an incredible balance between beautiful cinematography and the ugliness of these terrible life moments. The acting is fantastic across the board. It's one of those movies that leaves you thinking about it for days after, about what it's saying about human nature, fate, environment, upbringing, and personal choices, right and wrong. 

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's themes. What does Cities of Last Things suggest about traumatic events, violence, family history, the future? 

  • The movie's story moves in reverse chronology. Why do you think the filmmaker's made that decision? How would the movie be different had it been presented in a forward and linear manner? 

  • Was the sex and violence necessary for the story, or did it seem like gratuitous attempts at keeping the audience's attention? 

Movie details

For kids who love thrills

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