When Da Qiang, his wife Yuan Ni and two children, Fang Da and Fang Deng, encountered a cloud of dragonflies on the afternoon of July 27, 1976, in Tangshan, China; he little realized that early in the morning of the following day he would be dead, his home destroyed, and his daughter lost for the next 32 years. That night, a earthquake measuring 7.8 in the Richter scale hit the city, killing an estimated 240,000 of its inhabitants. Tangshan itself was in ruins.
However, Aftershock is not so much a disaster movie, as it has been marketed, but rather a tale of two Chinas, the one which was left behind in ruins after the quake and the death of Chairman Mao Tse-tung later in that year, and the China we know today, as I heard my fridge softly humming in the kitchen. A China of values of family and togetherness was also left behind in the scram for money of the new one.
This is also a story of survival, of memories, of guilt, of forgiveness, of redemption. The format of the film is rather conventional, although it is beautifully crafted and photographed. The special effects of the quake itself are good, although they give the impression that it lasted for a long time, although its duration was only 23 seconds (most earthquakes do not last very long). Xiaogang Feng, the director, claims that Aftershock was conceived as a homage to the quake’s victims. However, that claim is somewhat lost by the intensity of the story, the last scene being somewhat like a kite in the wind, although still emotionally charged.
The device used to link all this different historical strands is the fate of Da Qiang family. His wife attempts to get into the apartment block in the middle of the quake, but he goes instead of her and dies after the building collapses on him, and the children sunk into the abyss of the collapse. Rescuers made her to choose between her two children, as they can only save one as to lift one side of the concrete slab where they are buried under will mean that one or the other will be crushed to death. The son is saved, although with one of his arms amputated as it was crushed, and the girl is left for dead. A Sophie’s Choice like scenario so far.
However, the girl survives, waking up on top of a truck full of corpses, her father’s body next to her, and wanders off. She will remember for ever those words her mother uttered: “Save my son”. She is adopted and raised by a couple of PLA officers as if she were their daughter, as the authorities were unable to reunite her with her surviving family in the chaos that followed the quake. In a key scene, she actually remembered her name when she is being enrolled to school and she is from then known as Wang Deng.
The two siblings grow apart for the next 32 years, the son believing his sister is dead, while she knows that he and her mother are alive, she cannot forget those three words. She eventually moves to Vancouver after she marries a Canadian , while her brother Fang Da manages to create a fortune in the new China, after having started as a ‘no-good’ for anything. Helping as a earthquake relief worker, her medical training being of great help, the two siblings finally reunite, her guilt resulting from her 32 years long resentment due to those three words surfaces.
One last point: Aftershock is a weepy, so make sure to have a box of hankies next to you when you watch it.
The DVD contains the film, scene selection and set up features (5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo sound).
Aftershock is China’s official foreign language entry to the 2011 Oscars.
Director: Xiaogang Feng
Cast: Daoming Chen, Chen Li, Yi Lu
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Film Certificate: (UK)15
UK theatrical release date: 12 November 2010
DVD UK release date: December 27th