Tuesday, October 05, 2010

AFTERSHOCK - 8.5 on the Tearjerker Scale

AFTERSHOCK (DVD review of disaster drama in Mandarin)
Cast: Zhang Jingchu, Chen Daoming, Chen Li, Yi Lu, Chen Jin and Fan Xu
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Script: Su Xiaowei, based on novel by Zhang Ling
Time: 135 mins
Rating: * * * * (out of 4)

Fan Xu in a scene from AFTERSHOCK

PREAMBLE: Somehow, I missed this gem in the cinema and managed to catch it on DVD. By now, you may have heard the following about Aftershock:
a) That it was the first Chinese movie to play on IMAX;
b) That in less than three weeks after its premiere in China on July 22, it became the highest-grossing domestic movie ever made, collecting US$92 million (RM27mil) in China alone and more than US$95 million in Asia and New Zealand to date.
c) The movie, made at an estimated US$25 million (RM76 mil) is expected to gross even more when it hits Europe and the US.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Aftershock deals with the trauma and mental anguish that a family suffers after the Tangshan earthquake in 1976. Although the quake lasted only 23 seconds and took the lives of 240,000 people, its effects on Yuan Ni (played by director Feng's wife, Xu Fan) took their toll for over 30 years.

When the tremors strike, Yuan Ni sees her hubby (Zhang Guoqiang) crushed by falling rubble. In the ensuing mayhem, she finds her twin children, son Da Feng and daughter Fang Deng, trapped under a concrete slab, calling for help. Pleading for them to be saved, she is forced to make the Sophie's Choice of having to choose only one! This decision is to torment her for the rest of her life.

Foster Mom: Chen Jin and Zhang Zi-Fen

Director Feng Xiaogang, who gave us the powerful war drama, Assembly, last year, shows that he is just as adept as any Hollywood film-maker when it comes to epic-styled sets and effects. The quake sequences are visually powerful as they are emotionally riveting. From the moment when a shell-shocked Yuan Ni looks to the sky and cursed: "God, you bastard!" we know we are in for a pot-boiler of a family drama that is told via important events like the death of Chairman Mao, Chinese New Year celebrations and another recent huge quake.

Throughout the movie, we see Feng touching on themes of filial piety, teenage romance and guilt. There is also a suggestion of 'divine hand' in the way God must have played a joke on Yuan Ni, perhaps for her blaspheme. Whatever the reason, our attention is glued to the screen - thanks to the solid performances of the cast, Chen Jin and Chen Daoming who play a caring foster couple who are members of the People's Liberation Army; and Zhang Jingchu as a woman who is haunted by what her mother said on that fateful day of the quake.

Aftershock is Feng Xiaogang's most effective work to date and we look forward to more from him.

THE LOWDOWN: A tearjerker that is easily 8.5 on the Richter scale.


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