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By Patrick Samuel • August 4th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Huayi Brothers

Original release: July 22nd, 2010
Running time: 135 minutes

Country of origin China
Original language Mandarin

Director: Feng Xiaogang
Writers: Wu Si, Ling Zhang

Cast: Chen Daoming, Lu Yi, Xu Fan, Zhang Guoqiang, Li Chen


Have you ever felt the ground shake beneath your feet? It happened only once to me so far, when I was quite small. The earthquake lasted only a few seconds and brought no substantial damage to the surrounding area, but the experience left me acutely aware of how quickly things can change on this planet. Throughout history we know of entire cities that have been levelled in just a few seconds when an earthquake strikes. We have only to look back on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles to see how devastating they can be, but in recent years with the 2006 Boxing Day Indonesian earthquake and tsunami and the 2011 Japanese earthquake, we’ve come to know the human cost too.

A film like Aftershock is one which also reminds us of that human cost. How do the survivors begin putting their lives back together again after such a wide-scale disaster and shared trauma of losing loved ones in an instant? Based on the novel Tangshan dadizhen (Great Tangshan Earthquake) by Zang Ling, the film is dedicated to the 242,400 who lost their lives in the 1976 earthquake which decimated the city at the 3.42am on July 28th that year. It left 164,600 injured and 4,200 children orphaned, making it one the deadliest earthquakes in history.

In the movie we meet 7 year old twins Fang Deng (Zang Zifeng) and her brother Fang Da (Jiajun Zhang). Fang Deng looks out for her brother and stands up to his bullies for him 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 try to race back tot heir apartment to rescue their children.

I’ve seen my fair share of earthquakes in disaster movies but what Aftershock creates for us on screen is something entirely different. It shakes us to core with visual effects on a scale that’s 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 us want to rush there and rescue them too.

The earthquake is just the beginning of the devastation though; 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 Aftershockbe 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.

It’s the remarkable story of a how a mother lives for 32 years with the choice she’s made. As a film dedicated to the people of Tangshan during the 1976 earthquake, its heartfelt and raw emotion can be felt on an epic scale as the rescue workers and People Liberations Army get to work. Aftershock, in essence, helps us comprehend the incomprehensible effects of such a disaster by honing its focus on one story and one family whose story, while unique and heartbreaking , connects us to something the people in places like Tangshan and Sichuan have all had to experience.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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