Feng Xiaogang’s Tribute To Tangshan Victims

Feng Xiaogang’s Tribute To Tangshan Victims

Static Mass Rating: 5/5

Release Date: November 12th, 2010
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 135 minutes
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Cast: Jingchu Zhang, Daoming Chen, Chen Jung Li, Yi Lu, Fan Xu, Jin Chen, Guoqiang Zhang, Li-li Liu, Ziwen Wang, Zi-feng Zhang, Tie-Dan, Mei Yong

Directed by China’s most successful director, Feng Xiaogang and starring Jingchu Zhang, Daoming Chen, Chen Jung Li, Aftershock is based on the novel “Tangshan dadizhen” (Great Tangshan Earthquake) by Zang Ling. It is dedicated to the 242,400 who lost their lives in the 1976 earthquake which leveled the city at the 3.42am on July 28th that year. It left 164,600 injured and 4,200 children orphaned, making it the deadliest earthquake of the 20th century.

Aftershock (2010)

In the movie we meet 7 year old twins Fang Deng (Zang Zifeng) and her brother Fang Da. Fang Deng looks out for her brother and stands up to his bullies and after getting a fan from the market they run home to plug it in and enjoy the cool breeze during the summer heat. Later that night as the children are asleep in their beds, their parents are about to enjoy a moment of passion outside in a parked truck when the quake hits. Lasting only 23 seconds but measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale and hitting at 11km directly beneath the sleeping city, mother and father attempt to race back to their apartment to rescue their children.

I’ve seen my fair share of earthquakes in disaster movies but what Aftershock creates on screen is something entirely different. It shakes you to the core with visual effects on a scale that is impossible to describe. This coupled with the emotional impact of watching a city collapse beneath this family’s feet is enough to bring the hardest of hearts to tears, but to watch the buildings fall with Fang Deng and Fang Da trapped inside pushes past the need to let out a cry, it makes you want to rush there yourself.

Aftershock (2010)

The earthquake is just the beginning of the devastation that is about come; as the children lay trapped beneath the rubble and pinned against a slab of concrete, their distraught mother, Li Yuanna (Xu Fan), searches for them. When she hears Fang Da calling out to be rescued she quickly gets help to try and pull her children free. Fang Deng cannot be heard, unable to speak; she taps a rock for her brother to hear. The rescuers inform Li Yuanna that because of the way the children are trapped, if they raise the concrete to free one, the other will die and so she must choose.

How does a mother choose between two children? Which to save, which to die? It’s Sophie’s Choice (1982) all over again (but with one big difference) and the only way a mother can choose is to do so randomly. This is the moral centre of Aftershock and Li Yuanna’s choice will have devastating effects for the child she chooses to save and the one she chooses to let die. Its story spans 32 years and follows the family as they try to put their lives back together, only to be rocked again by another devastating earthquake in 2008, the Sichuan earthquake.

Aftershock (2010)

The film has already made over $100 million at the box office, but leaving its special effects aside, it’s the remarkable story of a how a mother lives for 32 years with the choice she has made. As a film dedicated to the people of Tangshan during the 1976 earthquake, its heartfelt raw emotion can be felt on an epic scale as the rescue workers and People Liberations Army get to work. Aftershock, in essence, helps one understand the difference with Asian cinema and American cinema as a whole but I prefer to let you draw that conclusion on your own once you’ve seen it.

With amazing performances and story, together with stunning cinematography, effects and musical score, Aftershock is by far one of the best films I have seen not only this year, but in many years and will no doubt be keeping a close eye on Asian cinema for more to come.

Let's talk... » Add your comment!

  1. Great review. I’m glad you seem to have enjoyed Aftershock as much or nearly as much as I did. Who’d have thought a disaster film could be so earth-shattering? I had expected a good film, but I didn’t expect to be completely blown away.

    • Hi Matthew! Thanks for your great comment! Really appreciate it! Aftershock, I’m actually still shaking since seeing it, the scope of the story…wow…western cinema has much to learn still about how to craft stories when dealing with special effects and big budgets. More and more I am watching Asian films so am definitely going to be visiting your site as well and seeing what you recommend. Aftershock comes on DVD in a few weeks here in the UK so I’ll be covering it again for the home release! We should keep in touch!

  2. Yes, I was rather pleased that the special effects were kept to a minimum and executed quite competently. This film is still new, but I do hope plenty of Westerners get a chance to see it, especially Americans since Hollywood could learn a whole lot from guys like Feng Xiaogang. The emphasis here is definitely on the storytelling, not explosions and computer wizardry.

    Your Website is very cool, by the way. I will be checking back as well for some more insightful reviews.

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