Rating: 4 out of 5
Aftershock is probably the most hotly anticipated film of the year in Chinese cinema. This disaster epic is helmed by one of the most acclaimed and successful directors in China, Feng Xiaogang. While Feng is mostly renowned for his comedic endeavours, Aftershock proves that he is equally adept at tragedy.
The movie focuses on the Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 and the lives it took or irreparably damaged in its aftermath. Adapted from Zhang Ling’s eponymously titled novel, Aftershock tells the story of a family of survivors who tried to continue with their lives after the natural disaster.
As the devastating earthquake struck, Li Yuanni (played by Feng’s wife, Xu Fan) sees her husband killed and fears for the lives of her seven-year-old twins. A rescue team soon informs her that her twins have been found alive, trapped underneath heavy debris. However, they are stuck in such a way that freeing either child will certainly result in the death of the other.
The mother is forced into a horrifically impossible dilemma as the rescue workers urge her to make a quick decision, lest both of them end up being crushed by the weight of the rubble. Li Yuanni eventually chooses to save Fang Da, the male twin.
The female twin, Fang Deng overhears her mother’s decision and is profoundly hurt by her mother’s abandonment. Zhang Zifeng, the child actress that plays her, captures that moment harrowingly, with an expression of utter loss upon hearing words that crush her more than any falling building could.
Left for dead, Fang Deng miraculously wakes up in the pouring rain beside her father’s corpse and is eventually adopted by kind foster parents.
Xu Fan’s haunting performance as a mother who has to live with the repercussions of her choice is immensely raw and brittle. Her grief and emotional burden is so palpable in all her scenes that it’s difficult to maintain a dry eye.
While Li Yuanni’s self-reproaching heartache and love for her lost husband and daughter hasn’t abated in over three decades, a grown up Fang Deng is also still broken and resentful over subsequent years. Zhang Jingchu is similarly wonderful in her portrayal of a girl struggling to enter womanhood with the memory of an assumed disownment.
Most Hollywood disaster flicks fall flat because they choose to focus upon the spectacle of destruction while totally ignoring the emotional core of its characters. Aftershock, as the tile implies, isn’t about witnessing the devastation of a city, it’s about the devastation of emotions, in the ruins of unimaginable catastrophe.
Aftershock is a tragic movie but Feng’s trademark comic wit injects much needed moments of relief. The protagonists’ existence may be living wreckage but as this movie carries on with their lives, it’s as much about healing and the joys of growing up as well.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.