Last One Standing (2019) 无主之城  : C-Drama Series Review

One of the Light On Series broadcasted in 2019, the sci-fi series focus on the concept that an artificial intelligence is so powerful that it is able to set up an experiment on human-beings. PIE is an artificial intelligence developed nearly 2 decades ago, which has taken over specific control of automated functions to be able to imprison passengers on a train, leading them to an eerie abandoned city.

Jiang Xue, Luo Ran, Ning Yu, Chen Li

The series starts off with panicked passengers in a train which is literally derailed at an abandoned city after going through a tunnel. Upon arrival at the city, the passengers are looking for ways to get assistance but faces a totally abandoned city with no communication to the outside world. As darkness embraces the night, the passengers are attacked by aggressive bats which seems fatal. Subsequently, the injured victims seem to display “zombified” features.

The passengers continue to struggle to survive, whereby conflicts start to divide them into the strong and the weak. The story (and the artificial intelligence) observes the changes in human behaviour in a survival crisis, as they go through the phases of hope, despair, desperation & acceptance. As they spend more time at the abandoned city, more did not survive. And their behaviour starts to show breaking points.

At the end of each episode, PIE will analyse the situation and comparing the actual reactions of passengers against the plotted behaviour based on most likely analysis. And the conclusion is often that human behaviour infuses irregularity and may not follow a specific trajectory based on data analysis. Almost like the brain vs the heart comparison.

At the centre of the story is Jiang Xue (Xu Ling Yue), an asthmatic programmer who has been lured to the train to meet an old acquaintance of her dead mother. Luo Ran (Du Chun of the super-sweet Mo Ming from Love is True) is a police officer who is hell-bent to follow the clues in the investigation on his wife’s death, which points towards Jiang Xue. He is accompanied by a reluctant good friend cum investigative report, Ning Yu (Dai Xu of Cheng Hao Nan from Love is True).

Du Chun as Luo Ran

The three of them exhibits trust issues, even between good friends Luo Ran and Ning Yu, leading to cracks in the relationship. It is quite surprising how the state of survival leads to a closer & trusting relationship between Jiang Xue and Luo Ran, while it drives a bigger wedge between good friends Luo Ran and Ning Yu. My own observations – the individual personality and their principles do affect their reactions, leading to the consequences. And obviously, as Jiang Xue falls in love with Luo Ran, she literally wants to protect Luo Ran.

Ning Yu has a secret to hide from Luo Ran and is determined to keep it a secret, even at the expense of potentially killing his good friend. The turning point for Ning Yu must have been when he accidentally kills Xie Ying in his desperation to hide the evidences. The more that he tries to hide, the more lies he made up, and the route leads him to a path of no return. His redemption comes a little late, but his choice to end his life perhaps imply he is unable to live with Luo Ran’s forgiveness.

Amongst the three, I thought Dai Xu is excellent in his portrayal of Ning Yu’s struggle in his own conscience. Desperately wanting to help his good friend Luo Ran, but selfishly wanting to keep his benefits (money and reputation too) and his betrayal of Luo Ran’s trust. I have high expectation of Du Chun’s portrayal as I have found him to be a good actor in his previous dramas including Love Yunge from the Desert and Love is True. But his performance here is a little muted. I find Luo Ran’s personality difficult to empathise with. He is so dedicated to his police work that he neglected his wife, and even puts his wife’s life in danger in his pursuit of the criminals. By the time he loses everything and falls into deep regret, he is still pursuing his deemed “criminal” doggedly, whether rightly or wrongly. It is almost as if he wants to confirm that he is not at fault for all that happened, and shifts the blame to others. A typical good personality trying to hide his flaws. Jiang Xue’s personality is also difficult to like, as there doesn’t seem to be much growth in the character.

Secretive Ning Yu

Included in the train wreck are a mix bag of different personalities, with their own personal issues amidst the survival crisis.

The typical “alpha” of the pack comes in the form of Chen Li (Liu Yu Jun of the villainous Marquis Xie Yu from Nirvana in Fire), who hides behind the mask of helping others through intimidation for collective decision-making (usually to his advantages). He brings along his favourite nephew Hai Tao, who is surprisingly naïve.

The relationship is almost like a wild wolf and a domesticated lamb, of which Hai Tao declares that he is happy to be a lamb. Regardless of the goading by his uncle, he remains a sweet and kind-hearted soul. It was actually very sad to see how he takes care of his comatose uncle, and ended up being beaten to death by others in the absence of his uncle’s protection. Chen Li’s character has the biggest change in story – from a big bully “wolf” hiding behind his mask, to openly intimidating others to survive, to being the strong to the injured weak hence losing his ”alpha” status, to realising the strength of love from his beloved nephew. Whether he actually repents on his life-long mantra of being the hunting wolf, the ending is a little bit hazy. Although at the end he has assisted Luo Ran and Jiang Xue in their quest to save the rest of the survivors, it is not clear did he do it to survive or as a repent. Liu Yi Jun nails the character very well, totally loving his portrayal.

Hai Tao the lamb, protected by the biggest bad wolf

Chen Li’s character also attracted mother-daughter pair of Mo Li and Guo Er. The mother-daughter pair is also quite the opposite in terms of personality – Mo Li more practical and selfish in her sense of survival. Guo Er as the younger daughter more naïve and trusting of others. When Mo Li sticks with Chen Li to ensure protection & hopefully tickets to get out of the abandoned city, it creates friction with Guo Er. Although Hai Tao is interested in Guo Er, she on the other hand is more friendly towards the mute boy, Er Er.

Another perspective is the husband-wife relationship of the doctor Qin Fen and his wife, An Qi. Qin Fen is dedicated to his profession to heal, but seems to have difficulty to gain his wife’s trust. When An Qi turns into a zombie, his dedication and persistence to protect her is proof of his great love for his wife. All turns out well when the cure is found to reverse the condition of those affected by the “zombie” virus.

A mother’s love – all turns out well…

The other relationship points towards Liu Zheng Yi, a scientist with ambitious propaganda to actually resurrect and reinforce the artificial intelligence PIE’s existence. He hides behind a weak façade, seemingly going with the flow but eager to observe the experiment himself. The suicidal Nana is totally misguided, falling in love with an artificial intelligence and even willing to follow his instructions to hurt others. The artificial intelligence PIE only appears in person near the end of the drama. His behaviour at the ending is also quite perplexing, as there is a hint of amusement and confusion when his experiment ended.

Conclusion 7/10

Generally, there are some holes in the storyline for an artificial intelligence to fully imprison the train passengers in an abandoned city. Leaving these holes within the story aside, I have a little issue with the deemed “westernised” depiction of the characters – the strong bullies, the nice leads, the betraying friends, the weak villain.

When the victims become zombified, I actually rolled my eyes, thinking is this going to be another zombie story. There were a number of scenes which to me were unnecessary to build up the experiments by the artificial intelligence. The ending is a little muted, and could have been stronger.

However, it does reiterate a few things:

  • In a state of survival and crisis, each man stands for themselves
  • Herd mentality easily influences the mass
  • The strong does not necessarily help the weak, very likely may turn the situations to their advantages by culling the weak

Well, based on the above, do you have the same conclusion as PIE on human behaviour at the end of the story? I would like to believe so, and keep a little hope for the future.

Light On Series

Last One Standing (2019)

The Bad Kid (2020)

The Long Night (2020)

Sisyphus (2020)

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