In Tangshan, the truck driver Da Qiang, his wife Yuan Ni and their twins Fang Da, their son, and Fang Deng, their daughter, are a happy simple family. On 27 July 1976, a devastating earthquake destroys Tangshan, and Da Qiang dies while trying to rescue his children from their apartment. When a collapsed beam traps Fang Da and Fang Deng, Yuan Ni is forced to decide between saving her son or daughter and she chooses Fang Da. However, her daughter Fang Deng overhears her mother's choice and miraculously survives. She is rescued by a soldier and adopted by Mr. Wang and his wife with the name Wang Deng. Thirty-two years later, after an earthquake in China, Wang Deng, now married to a Canadian lawyer and living in Vancouver with her daughter, travels to China and voluntarily joins the rescue team. By chance she meets Fang Da and she learns the drama of Yuan Ni through all those years. The family is finally reunited at Yuan Ni's home, where bitterness is exposed and resolved.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Tangshan earthquake of 28 July, 1976 was a magnitude 7.6 earthquake. It mainly affected the industrial city of Tangshan, located in the province of Hebei. The Official estimates of casualties speak of 242,419 deaths caused by the earthquake. Additional casualty estimates may also include those who were injured by the earthquake, but died in subsequent months. See more »
Chinese New Years Holiday celebration 1997 seen on the TV set. The first flat screen CRT television was brought to the mass market by Panasonic in November of 1997. Chinese New Year 1997 would mean February of 1997. It is also not of a Pansonic brand TV. See more »
Mom, how have you managed all these years?
I've been doing quite alright.
How many 30 years are there in a woman's lifetime? Why did you do that?
Really, I've been doing quite alright. If I'd instead led a carefree life, I would be letting you down even more.
Mom, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. From the first moment I set eyes on Fang Da, I started to hate myself. He is my little brother... how wonderful that he has survived. Mom, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I've tortured you for 32 years.
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A Nutshell Review: Aftershocks
In some ways, Aftershock as a big budgeted epic sort of plays out like Feng Xiaogang's Assembly, with the money shots concentrated in the first few minutes, followed by a masterful treatment of human drama against an historical backdrop of events in China. As a fan of Feng's films thus far, he continues to show that he's equally adept in handling commercial, studio tentpole films like this one, and smaller, more intimate films like If You Are The One, dealing with equal ability a cast of plenty, or just a handful.
Aftershock cuts to the chase and puts the audience smack into 1976 Tangshan, China, just about when the big quake struck. We're introduced to a family of four, where soon enough Mother Nature's unforeseen wrath swallows up the entire city, and shattering countless of lives and families in the process. What follows will set the stage for the entire two more hours to come, where Yuan Ni (Xu Fan) has to make that Sophie's Choice of which twin for the rescuers to save - son Da Feng, or daughter Fang Deng - since a beam separates the two. Tradition, culture and custom will unfortunately make this a no-brainer when push comes to shove, coupled with the fact that the death of her husband in rescuing her, and her role as the dutiful wife to ensure the preservation of the family line, but worst, this decision is made within earshot of Fang Deng who's fighting for her life in the rubble.
Heaven's compassion means Fang Deng survives the ordeal nonetheless, but gets picked up by a PLA soldier and sent to a survivor's camp, where she gets adopted into a foster family (Chen Jin and Chen Daoming in excellent form here as foster mom and dad respectively). The narrative then tangents into two halves, one following the grown up Da Feng (Li Chen), and the other Fang Deng (Zhang Jingchu), in their trials and tribulations of growing up in China in the last 30 years, interspersed with shots of a growingly vibrant Tangshan (and other cities of China) where we see the economic development of the country. However, Nature still is that unfortunate leveller, and for all the technological advancement, human emotions and a mother's love still continue to form the basis of a heart-wrench when dealt with an unfair card in life.
Based upon a novel, What works here are the many small subplots that get introduced, such as teenage romance, filial piety, and essentially the all important theme of family, that merges well with the inclusion of landmark events such as Chairman Mao's death, and another more recent quake that brings characters together. What more, all the cast members gave stellar performances (Save for the token Caucasian) that will tug at your heartstrings, and enable the melodramatic, emotional finale to be all the more powerful as we come to learn how bitterness and hatred accumulated over the years, can dissipate with the passage of time, and the opportunity presented to seek forgiveness.
Which somehow the editing seemed to give way under the weight of emotions, and introduced some abrupt cuts away from scenes you'd think will linger for a more emotional closure. However, art direction from costuming to sets here are superb in capturing the look and feel depicting the different eras from the 70s to the 90s, and brought to mind other similarly crafted dramas like Heaven Eternal, Earth Everlasting and Electric Shadow, both films that you should give a watch as well should you dig powerful dramas like Aftershock.
I can't attest to how great this film would have been on a larger than life IMAX screen simply because Singapore, for all our record movie attendance, we still find it not viable to have one (we had one before), but one thing's for sure, the special effects employed here is on par with what Hollywood can dish out. While Hollywood can serve exaggeration for that wow factor (think 2012 where everything falls apart), Feng employs digital effects prudently to ensure that the emotional aspect doesn't get neglected. For all the individuals affected by the Big Quake, one will actually feel for them when they get pulverized, and it's hard not to be saddened when you realize it's actually all very futile when the ground beneath you starts swallowing everything. As one character said in the film, there's no worry if it's a small quake, and if it's a big one there'll be no escape anyway. It's this exasperation and resignation from a survivor that succinctly explains not only the physical scars, but the emotional ones as well that lingers far longer with the survivors, coming close to becoming pangs of guilt.
So don't go in expecting a special effects extravaganza like what Hollywood will do. An earthquake doesn't last for that long, but the emotional journey of family members set apart by a catastrophic event goes on for much longer. Aftershock is that film set on the right path in choosing to focus on this aspect, and delivered a film rich in the human emotions of pain, distress and suffering. Highly recommended, and a natural inclusion to the shortlist of this year's best.
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