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A 2010 movie directed by Feng Xiaogang

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Choosing Who Lives And Who Dies?

  • Jan 1, 2011
Disaster movies have always been tagged and made as something other than what they should be, and sometimes more. A) They are sometimes tagged as a spectacle with little respect for the reality behind the story. (Example: “Titanic”) B) Something to appease “popcorn entertainment” sensibilities through the use of special effects (Example: “2012“, “Volcano”) C) To display the strength of the human spirit and their ability to do heroic deeds (Example: the beloved “Poseidon Adventure“). D) The effects of such a tragedy and how the survivors have been scarred by that event (Example: The Japanese film “Black Rain”). Well, acclaimed director Feng Xiao-Gang’s “AFTERSHOCK” adapts the novel by Zhang Ling that tells the story of a family that suffered the effects of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and it may fall under "tag D".

The real Tangshan earthquake took place in July, 1976 and is one of the most tragic events in China’s history. The disaster claimed the lives of more than 245,000 people (some records report more) and according to my research, it was interwoven with a very chaotic time in the country’s history. The government refused foreign aid, it marked the end of the Cultural revolution and the death of Mao Zedong. With some facts out of the way “Aftershock” is the kind of film that can touch people and get huge returns in the box-office. However, it does present a filtered version of the events as the film doesn’t portray much of the events that surrounded the disaster. Feng has admitted to appeasing the government requests when it comes to making films based on a true event. He is still a commercial director and he did somewhat give in to the political pressure brought forth by his investors.




Well, I guess I can excuse this since Feng does give respect to those who had suffered the disaster and it never forgot that the story of this family as portrayed by the novel. “Aftershock” isn’t exactly about the disaster but rather it is about the trauma that one family had suffered for nearly 3 decades because of it. The film is a harrowing family drama that faintly portrays the changes in Chinese society.

"Aftershock" is a hard movie to review without minor spoilers, since the first act carries a lot of important scenes that affect the rest of the film. The family whose story is told is led by the mother, Ni Yuan (Xu Fan, Feng Xiao-gang’s ’s wife) and the father (Zhang Guoqiang) who happen to have a playful rendezvous in the back of a truck while their two kids (Fang Da and Fang Deng) sleep in their home. When the earthquake hit, the father is crushed underneath tons of debris and the Yuan Ni is left to make a heart-wrenching choice; the rescue team could only save one or the other since her children were trapped alongside one beam. Yuan Ni picks the son albeit with the loss of an arm, Fang Da perseveres and soon grows up to become a respectable young man (played by Li Chen). However, unbeknownst to Ni Yuan, Fang Deng had also survived and is taken in by a kindly couple (Chen Daoming and Chen Jin). Deng grows up to become a young woman (played by Zhang Jingchu, Jade Warrior) who harbors a grudge against her mother; a mother she believes who had chosen the life of her brother over hers. Yuan Ni never does get over that choice she had to make and through the years, she tortures herself into suffering, never knowing that her daughter is alive…





“Aftershock” had quite a few misleading marketing ploys during its production. It was stamped as a spectacle (the first ever non-English language movie to be translated into IMAX) until the director made a statement that it is a movie about heart, pain and despair and the strength of one's spirit. Nonetheless, the scenes of the disaster in the first act was harrowingly realistic. It was meticulously shot as Feng never held back on its visceral impact (Movies like 2012 may be more polished but they were simply effects shows), you see bodies being crushed between stone and metal as the buildings crumble down. The scenes were horrific and realistic. Once the dust settles, the viewer will feel that he is right in the middle of the rescue efforts. You could just see the sense of urgency in the scenes. Feng knew how to shoot such scenes as shown in “The Assembly”, the scenes had emotional content and although they were bloody, they made a more effective impact due to its emotions.

The themes of the film is all about we carry a burden and how we manage through life even after such pain. Ever wonder how painful it would be for a mother to choose which child should live? How about how painful it is when your parent chose your sibling before you? “Aftershock” tells a story as to how our pain and emotional baggage can blind us by nurturing that pain; how anger and grief, however understandable and justified can appear selfish at times. The events in our past takes a hand in shaping our character, we are who we are because of them. This film is about remorse, grief and emotional burden that one carries with them after a misfortune had struck.



The characters in “Aftershock” may prove to have some “staplings” to other films of familial drama. But they are all amazingly well-acted. The drama in the film are derived from a novel and so as such it stayed within the limits of that area. It covers two parallel lives and yet so close but apart. The script by Su Xiaowei covers almost 30 years of their lives and one knows exactly where it would lead up to. Fang Deng and Fang Da live their lives to the best they could, they are morally strong because of their experience in the earthquake. I do think that Fang Deng is the better written of the two characters, given her complications. However, the character of Yuan Ni, marvelously played by Xu Fan just takes over the film. Her grief and her ability to express the pain felt by the character is just incredibly well-executed. The two army officers who adopted Fang Deng also made their marks in the film despite their somewhat limited screen time. The two are the expression of hope for one whose light had almost died, while Yuan Ni seemed to be sustained by her pain and the inability to forgive herself.

The film isn’t perfect since some scenes lingered much more than others and the direction felt spotty at times. I could almost feel that there was a part edited out. The film was aimed at a certain audience and I would not be surprised if Feng omitted details to keep the political and commercial motivations behind it. Yes, the Tangshan government party had a hand in financing the film and so it is very China-friendly. (then again, most disaster films are cautious, here at least, Feng focused on the right emotions).

“Aftershock” is an easy film to love. It is the kind of film that impresses because of the way the characters revolved around familial love that is based on pure, primal emotions that develop among normal human beings. It is a story about survival, how one faced certain death and how one endured after a tragic misfortune. You cannot help but be swept in the film’s emotions, this one of those times that I was incredibly touched by its tear-jerking moments. It is not a film that provokes a thought but rather it is an emotional one. It is a film with good intentions albeit somewhat a little obvious as to why it played it safe. Feng Xiaogang always had the right touch to instill the right emotions at the right set time.

Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]

4 ½ Stars: What Would You Do, When You Have To Choose Who Lives And Who Dies?

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January 05, 2011
It was once believed that earthquakes were Heaven's way of showing dissatisfaction with emperor/government. Making this film is almost a political statement in and of itself if you aren't careful
January 06, 2011
That's a great point. Nice comment, Karen!
January 07, 2011
Thanks. I'm sort of surprised the goverment let it slip past them.
January 02, 2011
Well, it does look depressing. Those photos alone are pretty harrowing. Nice job.
January 03, 2011
This was quite phenomenal; missed some opportunities in the political themes but it was excellent as a familial drama. hey, I posted a review in your fantasy COL, kid-friendly fantasy movies are fine right?
January 03, 2011
Of course.
January 02, 2011
Amazing review WP, love the pics.
January 02, 2011
Thanks, Alex, this is a must-see! The opening act is truly a bleak disaster film and not like one of the ones H-wood dresses up.  I am off to see a film today...stay tuned. :)
January 02, 2011
Just GREAT :-) I'm sure if you understand the spoken language, it would have been awesome!
January 02, 2011
Yes, most probably. I really liked this film and you're right, this may have been more affecting if I understood Mandarin, I had to rely on the English subtitles. Still, Feng knew how to make an emotionally moving film. This is hitting my best of 2010 list for sure.
January 02, 2011
Wow Woo - excellent review; I love your insight on the human emotions of this film. It sounds great and will be on my "to-see" list. Very emotional sounding film and one I would really like to see!
January 02, 2011
Thanks, Brenda! This one film stunned me, it was one of those moments that instill plenty of emotions. It had a lot of scenes that were truly nerve-wracking. The film played on a limited release here last April, but I waited for the imported DVD to come out instead. This is hitting my best of 2010 list! The U.S. Dvd is due out real soon!

Hey, seems like my reviews get longer when I really like a film; I think I should start cutting them short...I tend to have a lot of stuff to say about things I like. LOL!
January 02, 2011
No no, don't cut them short - it's not like you're boring or anything!! LOL
January 02, 2011
Thanks...I still think I talk too much LOL!
More Aftershock reviews
review by . August 05, 2010
posted in ASIANatomy
A little girl & A teddy bear
It is interesting how themes in a movie are used repeatedly. It is however astonishing to find two similar themes appearing one after another, within the span of a few hours, in two very different kinds of movies I picked. One is in a Chinese real event story while another in an animated American make-belief movie. How is that for one in a million chance of that happening? Well, it did for me a few days ago.      The two movies I’m referring to are “Aftershock” …
Quick Tip by . July 30, 2010
An excellent movie which spans 2 earthquakes (1976 Tangshan earthquake which killed more than 1/4 million people & 2008 Sichuan earthquake which killed almost 70,000, injured over 1/4 million & made 4.8 million homeless). The movie is not about earthquakes per se but centered on the story of people who survived the earthquake instead. Very touching movie. Highly recommended!
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William ()
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About this movie


Aftershock or Aftershocks (ChinesepinyinTángshān Dàdìzhèn) is an upcoming 2010 Chinese drama film directed by Feng Xiaogang. The film stars Xu Fan and Zhang Jingchu, with a supporting cast including Li Chen.[2] Scheduled for release in China on July 22, 2010, it will be the first IMAX film created outside the US.


In the aftermath of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, a rescue team informs a mother that her seven-year-old twins Da and Deng are trapped together under a slab of concrete. Lifting the slab in any way will kill one of her children - lifting it one way will save the daughter at the expense of her son; lifting it the other will save the son at the expense of her daughter. Heartbroken, she is forced to choose between her children, and finally decides to save the boy. Her decision, however, is overheard by her daughter, who whispers "Ma..." as the screen goes black. The mother clings to her daughter's body before being pulled away to take care of Da, "her one child who still lives." Later, in the midst of the rains following the earthquake, Deng wakes up in a sea of bodies, next to the body of her father. Reluctant to be returned to the woman who chose to abandon her, Deng is adopted, but remains emotionally scarred.

In 2008, she volunteers to join rescuers in the wake of the Sichuan ...

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