‘Gone With The Light’ (Bei guang zhua zou de ren) is a 2019 Chinese sci-fi thriller that revolves around a group of people who disappear after a mysterious light falls upon the city leaving the survivors to try and unravel the mystery. On a seemingly innocuous Thursday, a mysterious bright light appears over a city and a percentage of the population disappears. Rather than delve into the science-fiction aspect of the movie, director Runnian Dong creates a story that is more insular. It is more empathetic and finally in a way much more sociological and existential.
Using 4 stories that weave in and out of the narrative, Dong focuses on a singular theme – the concept of true love. He debates about its existence and how the concept of that existence can be weaponized as a way to segregate those who were left behind. It is discovered in the movie that the majority of the population that disappeared were couples. It slowly and steadily invites speculations if someone who is left behind still with their significant other? Does that prove that their relationship is strained and they have fallen out of love? If one person disappeared and their significant other hasn’t the speculation thickens with possibilities of an affair.
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Focusing on the mundane and frankly, a soap opera conceit in the backdrop of science fiction might feel off-putting to some. ‘Gone With the Light’ succeeds because it takes itself seriously with the plight of its characters. The characters are flawed, realistic, and self-centered. Their selfishness bringing out humor at uncomfortable moments. Trying to navigate through the myriad complexity of a relationship called love, Runnian Dong shows us how much the concept of love, the showmanship of it is more important than the actual act itself.
In a very relatable scene Bo Huang’s Wu Wenxue tries to explain the non-disappearance of his wife and himself as mere happenstance. His wife has been “conveniently visiting her aunt when the event occurs”. Through the confused stares Bo Huang plays Wenxue with a sense of false bravado. It is an act to mask the insecurity fully evident on his face. It is a masterclass in tragic comedy and a brilliant piece of acting by Huang. The creating of false tickets and passports in an effort to show a convincing reason as to why they were left behind – Dong creates a biting satire of the society at large. A society that is eager to segregate and judge based on a world-changing event. The fact that the movie feels eerily prescient in those moments is an unfortunate coincidence.
With so many positives in its pocket, ‘Gone with the Light‘ does suffer from some pacing issues. Not all of the stories are interesting or even feel necessary in the grander scheme of the narrative. The pseudo-science utilized in the narrative feels too surface-level. Using terms such as dark matter, a separate dimension existing are tidbits of information that pulls you away from the intended narrative of the story. For the majority of the runtime, I felt the events of the movie as inconsequential, but on deeper examination, I realized that the focus on these inconsequential events is the point of the movie.
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For such a character-driven movie, Dong utilizes a muted color palette with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography. The editing felt very sloppy at the beginning – making the movie feel like a series of vignettes strung together but as the stories progressed, the interweaving of the narratives became smoother and the flow became more cinematic. The ensemble cast is at the top of their game here. Each actor delivering moments necessary for an emotional impact. Bo Huang as the insecure, mild-mannered Wu Wenxue is the clear standout while Lu Huang in a much smaller supporting role gives an empathetic and emotional performance.
‘Gone with the Light‘ is not a great science-fiction movie by any stretch and neither is it really a thriller. What it works as is Runnian Dong’s thesis statement on the presence, the existence of true love. The fact that the mystery of the light and the disappearance of the individuals aren’t answered is a very beautiful and realistic wrinkle.