CPH:DOX 2023 Review: THE LAST YEAR OF DARKNESS, Inside Chinese Underground Club Culture

Director Ben Mullinkosson explores the Chinese underground club scene through a single nightclub and its patrons.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
CPH:DOX 2023 Review: THE LAST YEAR OF DARKNESS, Inside Chinese Underground Club Culture

In the pulsating, bass-beating, and neon-lit world of The Last Year of Darkness, Ben Mullinkosson, a filmmaker from the U.S. based in China, inhabits the local underground party scene. The heart of the film and the district is Chengdu's nightclub Funky Town, the collision destination for drag queens, DJs, queers, artists, and straights to share a drink, and dance in a climate of utmost mutual connection and inclusivity.

Mullinkosson's documentary fully immerses into the environment of Funky Town, a sanctuary alternative to Chinese youth and outsiders. The Last Year of Darkness is framed by the expiring period that remains of the nightclub's existence as construction and development closes in.

The club's existence will soon cease, as it will succumb to the new disposition of the district. Throughout its presence, Funky Town became the place where its patrons could freely embrace their true identities and live to the fullest.


Mullinkosson weaves a portrait of Chengdu's nightlife through several characters in his orbit. One of them is a young Russian ex-pat, Gena Baranov, moonlighting as a DJ and, curiously enough,  serving as the film's cinematographer alongside Yanqiu Fei. The director follows a drag performer,  witnessing the high of his shows and the low of his crisis of identity and existence.

The Last Year of Darkness is not a rave document; the place is of equal importance as the characters, and Mullinkosson follows them in their private lives outside the piercing light of the strobe and pulse of dropped bass.

The documentary is a time-lapse portrait of a district but also an alternative lifestyle in the Chinese Communist-led society, offering a candid look at the dynamic youth culture and thriving dance subculture, challenging any assumptions about China.

Mullinkosson shot the film across five years and ended up with 600 hours of footage. The documentary gets too close to the characters at times, sharing moments of joy, but of doubt and anxiety too and the director serves up an unfiltered psychological a warts-and-all portrait.

Curiously enough, The Last Year of Darkness eludes any kind of political statement. The film offers a rare insider's peek into the subculture, and its vivacious and cinematic celebration of life, freedom, self-expression, and friendship.

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Ben MullinkossonChinaCPH:DOXThe Last Year of Darkness

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