Aftershock is a 2010 Chinese film, directed by Feng Xiaogang, and is one of the most moving films I have seen in ages; I was a blubbering mess by the end. It is a cliche but true that the most memorable experiences we have are those that generate strong emotions within us. This is the case with the events of our lives, but also exists with films and theatre and other artistic achievements. Once they profoundly hit you then the experience stays with you for life – such is the case for with Aftershock. I am eternally grateful to my dear friend (and ex-student) Jason Chan from Banamana Productions, Singapore, for guiding me to this extraordinary movie. The ‘Western’ film to which is a comparable movie-going experience is J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible (2012) – another film involving a family facing adversity on an epic scale – and another film in which I was a blubbering mess.
Afteshock involves a Chinese family and the real-life devastating 1976 Tangshan earthquake, in which a mother has to make a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ about which of her two children, twin boy and girl, to save – she chooses the boy. Setting up the family, especially the twins, and the earthquake all happens within the first 15 minutes of the film. The earthquake sequence alone is extraordinary, one of the very best in cinema in my opinion (although acknowledging the one in W. S. Dyke’s and D. W. Griffith’s 1936 film San Francisco and the clever and effect use of ‘montage’ is the one that is the source of inspiration for all others – including Aftershock). Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, however, is that the girl survived. The film then covers the next 30-odd years of this Chinese family – their ‘aftershock’ from the earthquake, climaxing with a highly charged and emotional confrontation between mother and daughter.
The acting by all involved is truly marvelous. Xu Fan as the mother, Yuanni, and Chen Daoming as the Chinese soldier who saves the young girl and becomes her step-father won awards for their performances at the Huading Awards and the Asian Pacific Screen Awards respectively.
The film was highly successful, particularly in China; and as an example of how sometimes awards (or lack of) are not always indicative of and given to great films, Aftershock was submitted by China for Best Foreign Language Film for the 83rd Academy Awards but failed to make the short-list of nominees. According to the Rotten Tomatoes citation Aftershock holds a 90% approval rating, with the added acknowledgement that there are not enough ‘western’ reviews of the film – hence this posting.
I strongly urge any who read this to get hold of a copy of Aftershock, it is available on DVD – you will not be disappointed and maybe join me from the ‘west’ in drawing others to this truly extraordinary film.