Aftershock cuts to the chase and puts the audience smack into 1976 Tangshan, China, just about when the big quake struck. The first movie to ever be shown in IMAX in China is one doozy of a film. Currently the most popular domestic blockbuster in Chinese history and China’s entry for the 2011 Academy Awards, the 2010 drama is a crowd pleaser to be sure. Just don’t go in expecting a special effects extravaganza like what Hollywood does. Director Feng Xiaogang delivers an epic that is not about special effects, but one that touches the very essence of a human heart by tackling important themes like survival, how one deal with death, love, life and ultimate sacrifice. Kudos to Feng for accomplishing a film that is respectful but never condescending.
Unknowingly to the mother, her daughter, given up for dead and laid beside her dead father, wakes up from her unconscious coma state. Traumatized and shocked by her mother’s decision, she stood up and wonders about aimlessly on the street laid with corpses. There are all kinds of wonderful and heartbreaking scenarios touching on the nature and loyalties of family. I guess what I am trying to say is, Aftershock is a disaster film with a heart. That is quite an anomaly, since disaster pictures are mostly soulless exercises in visual effects filmmaking. The ending where the family is reunited is not tacky or corny, but it delivers a huge emotional satisfaction to whoever is watching it.
The digital effects are competent if overdone, but the drama itself attempts to transcend many of the typical pitfalls of the genre, which is commendable. Based on a novel the film is dedicated to the 250,000 people killed in the earthquake. Which based on what I saw in this film I’m glad I missed experiencing. I truely had no idea that this was a true story and it makes me angry that these types of disasters get downplayed. The director even took note of the time when this earthquake took place. The Tangshan earthquake really took place in the morning. It is attention to detail like this that really sets the tone and authenticates the film in itself.
I think in these last couple years, China brings a lot of effort to build a new image of their country throughout world cinema. Similar to what we saw in previous patriotic and historical movies like “City of Life and Death“. When there is a job to be done they do it well and this movie is just one of a great collection as the country as a whole enjoys what is a golden period of Chinese film making. On the whole, it manages to be compelling, giving a sense of nostalgia, and making you feel affinity with the life of this people. What more, all the cast members gave stellar performances. Highly recommended, and a natural inclusion to the shortlist of this year’s best. As a fan of Feng’s films thus far, he continues to show that he’s worthy of my time as both a reviewer and a film lover.