WTF ASIA 200: Gone With The Light (2019)

Valentine’s Day has gone…so I present a movie for those who are not in love and the final entry in my WTF ASIA Divorce Trilogy.

Watch Gone with the Light | Prime Video

Available in CanadaCanada againthe United Kingdomthe United Statesthe United States again, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 131 minutes.

 

 

 

 

The movie starts off with…a ferry taking on passengers. Okay…and then…people getting interviewed one-by-one in some white-walled studio over whether they believe in love? What the hell is going on?

Anyways, the film cuts between the various interviews and the ferry. Most interviewees seem to immediately say that they do, though not all. But when the interviewer asks what is love to them, the interviewees start giving varying answers, mostly revolving around practical acts and compromises. Then the interviewer asks where the people were when the…light appeared? What? What does that have to do with anything? And what is the deal with this ferry?

Oh, is that the titular light?

Is…that one of the guys from the interview? Well, anyways. This is Wu Wenxue. He is smoking in bed, which I guess wakes up his wife, Zhang Yan. He tells her to go back to sleep, since she has the day off. Of course, she can’t because of the smoke. Even though he had just lit it, Wenxiu puts out the cigarette.

Zhang Yan puts her arm over Wenxue, and he takes this as an invitation for some morning sex, which doubles as a conversation over whether he needs to treat the school headmaster to dinner so that he can get a promotion. Hot stuff indeed. Wenxue is certain that he will be promoted, after all, it is his turn; Zhang Yan is not so sure and tells him that he had better make certain. With a dinner bribe?

I don’t know if they finish or if they just stop, but Zhang Yan gets up and says that their daughter Xiaolei is awake, so it is over. She goes to Xiaolei’s room to wake her up while pressing Wenxue to invite his boss and the boss of his boss to dinner.

After taking his motor scooter to school and having a short chitchat with fellow teacher Xiaohan, Wenxue is in his class, teaching a bunch of teenagers. He is writing something on the board when all of a sudden…something…happens.

The students start screaming. A student, Zhang Haoxuan, just disappeared. Cheng Lin as well. Wenxue thinks that the kids are messing with him until he looks into the hallway and sees people running around. Dozens of people have disappeared all around the school. Students, teachers. Just vanished.

 

Oh, now we switch to another character. Kuaizi the loan shark, seen here eating his breakfast outside.

And now he and his friend assault a store owner who owes them money.

Kuaizi leaves most of the beatdown to his friend while he sits outside and smokes a cigarette. Then…something…happens. Kuaizi snaps out of it just in time to witness a car crash into another one. People start to crowd around the crash, but one of the drivers is…gone.

The store owner runs out. Kuaizi grabs him, but he gets away, saying that the other guy had disappeared.

 

 

 

And to a third character. Li Nan is standing outside of a bank as she observes a teenage girl fighting with her parents and then running off. The mother runs after her while the father approaches a boy and warns him to stay away from the girl. Lovely.

Eventually, Li Nan gets a ride to somewhere. She then calls up her husband and leaves a message yelling at him for being late. Since she is busy, though, she will do whatever they agreed to do some other day.

Then…something happens…and the car gets hit. For someone who did not appear to be wearing a seatbelt, Li Nan turned out okay from the crash. The taxi driver gets out and starts yelling at the driver of the other car, only to see that there is no driver. Li Nan then turns to see Kuaizi trying to catch the storeowner, who runs off.

 

 

And now we see Jiayi sitting in the bank with her boyfriend playing some handheld game. In comes Jiayi’s father, who slaps the boy in the face. Then he and Jiayi’s mother pull her out of the bank.

Jiayi runs into a nearby door and up the stairs to the top of the building. She goes to the ledge and sits on it. Her mother holds her jacket and says to stop scaring her, but her father says that she can jump if she likes; they can have another child. He accuses his wife of spoiling their daughter, and the two start bickering.

Then…something…happens, and Jiayi’s parents stop talking. Yes, you guessed it; they have disappeared.

Okay, so that is it for the main characters, right? All right. Let’s begin.

 

Kuaizi goes to the gang headquarters, where other goons are watching a news report about a light beam covering much of Yijiang City that may or may not be connected to all of the missing persons reports. Kuaizi asks to borrow the boss’ phone so that he can call his friend Qin Shan, saying that his own phone is out of battery life. The boss gives him his phone and he calls Qin Shan, only to be told that the phone is powered off. Kuaizi gives back the phone, concludes that Qin Shan is avoiding him, and vows to beat him up. Some friendship.

Zhang Yan is on the phone talking to…someone, while Wenxue is struggling to fix the television for his mother. Having given up, his mother decides to go for a walk to see how things are. Wenxue advises her against it, but she goes anyways. So…everyone goes.

There are police everywhere, fielding questions from whoever. There are firetrucks speeding down the streets. Zhang Yan notes that the headmaster had disappeared, meaning that Wenxue’s promotion is in question. Wenxue is surprised that she is still thinking about that, but she seems shocked that he does not seem to be concerned about it at all.

After some time, Zhang Yan decides that she wants to go back home. Wenxue catches up with his mother and says that they should go back. She does not want to, saying that she is fine. Wenxue starts coming up with other reasons for HOLY SHIT!

Wenxue checks to see if his mother is okay, but she yells at him to check Xiaolei. He runs back to see her dazed and dusty, but otherwise okay. Apparently, someone disappeared before shutting the gas, letting it build up until it exploded. Could things like this be happening around the city? That may explain the speeding firetrucks.

The news is reporting that 153 cities and regions around the world have had been experiencing this phenomenon. Around the world? At 10:00 AM China time? Anyways, there were major cities and barely populated areas where it occurred, and there are five places in China where it took place. China has jointly cooperated with international organizations blah blah blah.

Li Nan is not paying attention. She is trying to phone someone only to hear that the person’s phone is not on.

Li Nan goes to work where her colleagues are discussing what this thing could be. One guy is certain that it is a Japanese secret weapon, citing…everyone on the internet as his source. Anyways, someone calls to Li Nan, saying that she has a guest.

Li Nan goes over to the woman, suggesting that they talk outside. The woman does not wait before asking whether Li Nan has gotten divorced yet. She demands to know where she is hiding Hu Jianping. Li Nan tries once again to hold this private conversation outside, which results in the two of them getting into a fight in the office. Li Nan’s coworkers intervene and pry the other woman off.

Faculty meeting at the school. The acting headmaster says that the City Council and Education Bureau have decided to suspend class for elementary and middle school. So, now the teachers are tasked with taking their students back to their parents.

Kuaizi goes to an apartment…and he knows the number code to get in. He looks around and around and…oh, there are spots of blood on the carpet.  

Kuaizi goes outside to see some guys ransacking a convenience store while a bunch of people are just filming it from across the street on their phones. Apparently, the looters reason that the end of the world is coming, so there is no need to pay for anything. Kuaizi goes in and takes a carton of cigarettes. He locks eyes with the exhausted store owner, and then he just walks out. The store owner chases him.

Kuaizi runs right past Wenxue and his students, though he hits a bunch of boxes that a guy was transporting. The store owner and some random guy start beating up Kuaizi. One of the students, Song Kai, tries to participate, but Wenxue pulls him away, saying that it is none of their business.

Wenxue and his students walk away as the police arrive. Song Kai says that there is nothing to be scared of, but Wenxue tells him that he could be taken by the light next time. Another student says that they are not afraid of the light, since those who disappeared were in pairs.

What?

Song Kai explains that they were all couples. All of the people whom they knew to disappear were married or dating.

Y’all, I almost stopped watching the movie right here…but I didn’t.

 

The police take Kuaizi, the storeowner, and the random attacker to the police station. Apparently, there are so many people being processed or consulted that suspects like Kuaizi are being cuffed to window bars in the hallway. That does not seem very prudent.

After most of the crowd disperses, Kuaizi takes notice of the guy next to him who, while not cuffed, is just standing around. He asks the guy why he is here. After some hesitation, the guy says that he killed someone…his wife. Kuaizi demands an explanation and the man starts to cry, to Kuaizi’s annoyance.

Wenxue is in his office back at school when Xiaohan comes in. She asks if he had eaten, having brought some spicy chicken. It’s good. She sits in his chair and notices that he had been writing a bunch of names on a paper. He says that he noticed that most of the students and faculty who disappeared were couples. Yes. HE noticed that. Xiaohan starts to contribute, but notes that while the headmaster disappeared, his wife did not. Xiaohan wonders whether it is they who have disappeared, not the others. Wenxue starts to chuckle and she joins in.    

I am not sure how much time has passed, but the man who killed his wife is finally telling his story to Kuaizi. He is a scientist, and was one of the people called upon by the government to come together to figure out what happened with the light and the disappearances. Well, they couldn’t figure it out. But the scientists noticed that three out of four of those who disappeared were couples. Oh, so just like Wenxue’s students.

The scientist keeps going on and on, as Wenxue goes to see a colleague, only for the colleague’s husband to belligerently ask him if he was her lover.

A pair of census workers go to the apartment that is in Hu Jianping’s name, only to find Li Nan, who says that the two of them were going to get divorced, but he just never showed up. She tells them that he had been living with his mistress, but she does not know where he is either. Li Nan tells them that she does not care what happened to him.

Long story short, the scientist tells Kuaizi went home and his wife did things that convinced him that she did not love him. So, he killed her. Kuaizi theorizes that he made up all of this true love stuff so that he could plead insanity to avoid the death sentence. The man retorts that he is not afraid of death. A couple of cops walk by and he surrenders himself to them.

Right after that, Kuaizi is released along with a few other guys accused of misdemeanors, saying that the police cannot expend the effort to attend to petty crimes. But he warns them that the city is under a state of emergency, armed police are patrolling the streets, and troublemakers will be severely punished. Kuaizi is not done, though. He tells the cops that his friend Qin Shan is missing, and he suspects a television host named Zhou Hao has killed him.

And…umm…okay…the movie now shows some very sketchy-looking international news reports mentioning the true love theory. Someone mentions dark matter and dimensions…okay this part is not great and it turns out that the movie is just throwing this in to make us less interested in the mechanics or reasoning of what happened. 

The important part is when a man named Li Dan looks directly into the camera and says this: love is something that we can hardly define, but now this light beam has given us a definition; plus, it has given us a standard.

So, of the people who have failed the standard, are they helpless or liars?

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is quite an interesting and strange movie. It takes a premise that has been done before, that many people suddenly just disappear for no real reason. It gives it a potentially cheesy twist, that those who disappeared had found true love. And then instead of chasing down the road that I had expected, it goes inward toward the personal and sociological.  

The movie uses this event more as a jumping-off point for the exploration of love and how it relates to society. Certainly, love is something that one cannot really explain in concrete terms and, yet, here it is. Supposedly, there is a definitive definition. And for people living in certain parts of the world, there are consequences. People don’t understand it. Some don’t believe it. Yet, society as a whole seems to be moving forward as if this is the new reality. Along with the mechanics of the disappearance, the characters on the whole seem less concerned with what happened to the people who disappeared except for how it relates to them personally. I found that a somewhat odd choice from a purely narrative perspective, but it started to make a little more sense metaphorically as the movie progresses.

While there are several characters that the movie follows, the main focus seems to be Wenxue. He starts out pretty comfortable with his lot in life, with a promotion ensured, at least in his view. But when the light hits, it both leads to his boss getting replaced and the state of his marriage being put in doubt. He tries to act like everything is fine, but his outward certainty masks (sometimes ineffectively) a growing desperation leading to loud lies and potential violence. Like many Chinese, he is obsessed with reputation, and this phenomenon threatens to hurt his, so he acts out. 

Li Nan is not suffering from false feelings. She does not really care what happened to her husband, as they have been out of love for a while now and he has cheated on her so much. What she does need from him, however, is his ID, in order to complete the divorce proceedings.

Yet, Hu Jianping’s going missing makes it necessary for her to track down his mistress, He Xiaofen. After Xiaofen finally stops trying to kill Li Nan, the two of them sort of team up to find out what happened to Hu Jianping. They form an odd pair. Li Nan coldly put together, while Xiaofen is a hothead. While Li Nan simply wants that ID, Xiaofen needs to know whether he had disappeared with another woman and, thus, loved someone else. The two of them gradually learn that there were parts of him that he kept secret from both of them.

Of all of the characters that movie presents, only the gangster Kuaizi seems to be concerned for another character who may have disappeared. He is so concerned that he tells the police of his suspicions AFTER they have released him from custody. It is not completely spelled out, but it is heavily heavily implied that he was Qin Shan’s pimp and may have even had romantic feelings for him as well. However, perhaps since the alleged victim may have been a gay sex worker, the accuser is a criminal, and the suspect is a well-known person, the police are less than eager to pursue the case very far.

And that leaves Jiayi and her boyfriend. Hmmm…I suppose that this could have been an interesting storyline, particularly with how it ended. A teenage girl whose disapproving parents suddenly disappear?  Unfortunately, the movie does not really spend much time with them compared to the others. So that makes one of the scenes that the movie does include all the more…uh…questionable…well…anyways…

I feel like the movie is trying to explore a few things, such as the treatment of romantic love in society. Romantic love, true love, is something intensely personal, private, intangible, and intimate. Yet, it has also become hugely codified, commercialized, commodified, consumed, and controlled. If you do not follow the rituals and rules, if your public presentation masks private complexities, then is your love even real? Who decides this? Who polices this? In this movie, it appears to be the light. It judges the populace in these parts of the world, and so does everyone else. So, if you are in a relationship, were in the affected areas, but did not disappear, suddenly, your moral standing becomes shaky. 

I cannot tell if there is any significance to the people in the affected areas not being able to see the light themselves or why it was a light in the first place. Perhaps it is a metaphor for how everyone is smoking cigarettes in this film.

There is, maybe, a bit of a commentary on Chinese society specifically. Significant parts of the world may descend into chaos, but the iron fist of the Chinese government keeps the affected areas of China…comparatively peaceful and controlled. But the government’s intrusion into people’s private lives may go too far, particularly with that social credit system that people have been comparing to Black Mirror. That said, one’s reputation and place in society were always of high importance in China. So, even if the government itself does not judge people for their conduct, family members, neighbors, associates, bosses, and complete strangers may pick up the slack. And even if they don’t, the fear that they will is there.

And what is more private than love? What is more threatening to people’s reputation and dignity than intrusive skepticism into their love lives? Even if the government…or higher power…is not necessarily as overreaching as feared, as infallible as stated, or even doing what has been presumed, enough people start to behave as if that is all the case, at least publicly. So, they police themselves and each other, while those who fear that their reputation may take a hit resort to odd measures. But what else can they do? There is no reasoning with the light. No appealing to compassion, requesting elaboration, or petitioning for justice. Franky, my dear, it doesn’t give a damn. The light did what it did; it might do it again. People can try to behave in a matter that will appease it, but who really knows?

It is this uncertainty that the movie rests upon. Should people be defined by how they love? Whether they really are in love? Who they are as individuals? Their agency, their independence and interdependency? Answers do not come in the end and most of the storylines more stop than conclude. For those who do not get satisfactory answers, the question is whether they can live without those answers. For some, it is not easy. For others, perhaps they can. The movie ends much earlier than it seems, and there is an extremely long coda that…I am not sure was necessary, but it does show that, with the world changed, the world can still settle into a new normal. And, for the people who survived, life continues.  

 

 

 

 

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Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.

 

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Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.