Aftershock (2010) | This powerful drama about the 1976 Tangshan earthquake is a lesson in forgiveness

Aftershock (aka Tang shan da di zhen)

With such an exploitative English 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, Tang shan da di zhen is – at its heart – a searing drama about a family ripped apart, both physically and emotionally, by the terrifying natural disaster. Set over a 30 year period, as the city of Tangshan rises from the ruins to become an ultra-modern city, the family at the heart of this story attempt to rebuild their lives. But it is only through forgiveness that they can find peace.

Aftershock (Tangshan da di zhen)

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.

Aftershock (Tangshan da di zhen)

Despite its harrowing themes and blood-soaked opening, this is a heartfelt, engrossing film from director Feng Xiaogang – currently the most popular film-maker in China – that will have you reaching for the tissues, especially as the events finally come full circle. The performances of the two leads, Zhang Jingchu as Fang Deng and Xu Fan as her mother Li Yuanni, are exceptional; while the direction and production values are simply stunning – I particularly loved the way the camera moves from the glowing retro colours of the 1970s (like propaganda posters brought to life) to a sleek, modern, neon-lit 21-century China as the drama unwound its tortured tale.

In Mandarin with EST

Watch an extensive Q&A with director Feng Xiaogang on BFI Player (just click here).


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on February 20, 2014, in BFI Player, Must-See, World Cinema and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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