With such an exploitative title, you’d expect this Chinese box-office blockbuster to come across as Asia’s answer to 2012… but nothing could be further from the truth.
This dramatic account of the devastating earthquake that hit the industrial city of Tangshan in northern China in 1976, causing some 240,0000 people to perish, is more than just another disaster movie. Set during one of the most dramatic political periods in Communist China, Aftershock is – at its heart – a searing drama about a family ripped apart, both physically and emotionally, by the terrifying natural disaster.
Over a 30 year period – as the city of Tangshan slowly rises from the ruins to become an ultra-modern city – the family at the heart of this story are also trying to rebuild their lives. But it is only through forgiveness that they find peace.
Following the earthquake (certainly edge-of-your-seat stuff), seven-year-old Fang Da and his twin-sister Fang Deng become buried under the rubble of their former apartment. When their mother Li Yuanni learns that only one child can be freed safely, she makes the heartbreaking choice to free her son.
But Fang Den amazingly survives and is later placed into the home of a couple of People’s Liberation Army soldiers, who raise her as their own. What follows is a deeply emotional journey as Fang Deng grows up, has a child during college, marries, and then relocates to Canada. But nothing can shake the hatred she has for the mother who abandoned her. Intertwined with Fang Deng’s journey, is her mother’s own – crushed by her fateful decision, Li Yuanni leads the rest of her life in penance, waiting for the day she can be reunited with her husband and daughter in the spirit world.
Despite its harrowing themes and blood-soaked opening, this is a heartfelt, engrossing film that will have you reaching for the tissues – especially as events finally come full circle. The performances of the two leads, Jingchu Zhang as Fang Deng and Fan Xu as her mother Li Yuanni, are exceptional; while the direction and production values are simply stunning – I particularly loved the way the camera moved from the glowing retro colours of the 1970s (like propaganda posters brought to life) to a sleek, modern, neon-lit 21-century China while the film unwound its tortured tale.
If Aftershock doesn’t get rewarded with an Oscar nomination at this year’s Academy Awards, then I’ll eat a Tangshan Puffer Fish cold.