A tear-jerking film about a family split by tragedy in the 1976 Tangshan earthquake.
The biggest grossing film this year in it’s native China, Aftershock is a disaster
movie come drama that packs a seriously powerful early punch before spinning
its way into forced sentiment and cliché.
In 1976 Tangshan is hit by a huge earthquake. As buildings collapse, mother Yuan
Ni (Xu Fan) watches her husband die and her twins, son Fang Da and daughter Fang Deng, crushed beneath their apartment block. As rescue workers clear the rubble they discover the twins still alive but trapped under a concrete slab. Informed that moving the slab
will kill one of her two children Yuan Ni is asked which she will save and
elects for her son. Leaving the afflicted area, she is unaware that her
daughter has also survived and over the decades the family will live their
lives suffering the aftershock of that fateful night.
The opening of Aftershock is a brutal exercise in how to shoot a realistic and powerful disaster. Director Feng dispenses with the Hollywood
execution of Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (2009), meaning that when it comes to guessing the survivors all bets are off. Frankly, if there was a plucky dog in sight
it would almost certainly be flattened within minutes of appearing. As such
the opening half hour of Aftershock, which includes the earthquake itself and
the harrowing Sophie’s Choice (1982) moment, is one of the most startling you
are likely to see this year.
The problems arise once the story has passed that critical choice and the
characters travel through their lives in a state of limbo, still suffering from
the disaster they experienced. Feng tries desperately to pull, or push, us into the emotions of the piece by always tracking in or out, but in many ways he is let down by a script that contrives to use every cliché going to evoke emotion from an already drained audience.
There are still moments when you will feel a lump in the throat, towards the end in
particular, but none of them come close to the main event of the opening. As
such Aftershock gives too much too soon and is never able to continue the
The intent is honourable and offers up a drama that certainly packs a hugely powerful punch. But, its desperate need to tug on the heartstrings never allows the characters to develop and grow naturally. A refreshing change from Western disaster films but Aftershock falls through the cracks of its own