With its epilogue, the Chinese epic "Aftershock" makes it known that it wants to stand as a tribute to the estimated 240,000-250,000 lives lost in the devastating earthquake in Tangshan circa 1976. This horrendous quake decimated the city, destroyed lives, and ripped families apart. And any film that wants to honor the heroism and perseverance of the citizens that emerged from tragedy to rebuild not only their city but their lives is worthy of respect for its good intentions. But as I've said often in judging films--good intentions only take you so far! "Aftershock" is much more than its message--it is also an unforgettable and compelling family drama that spans over 30 years. It is an extremely satisfying historical epic that also tells a quietly powerful story about the long range affects that one night had on a family (and by extension, a nation). So, by all means, come to "Aftershock" for its good intentions but don't lose sight that it is also tremendous filmmaking!
If I had my druthers, I would have wanted to go into the film without knowing the major components of its plot. However, some of the details seem to be inescapable if you look at any of the marketing material, advertising, or product descriptions. The film does begin with a spectacular sequence recreating the Tangshan quake. It's a realistic and harrowing depiction that would stand on par to any contemporary special effects you'd see in Hollywood blockbusters. But this is no empty headed disaster film (which I love), but something much more heartfelt and affecting. On this fateful evening, a family of four is divided and it's not until 32 years later where they will all understand the truth of the night. The father is killed, the mother and her son live haunted by their memories, and the daughter is raised by a foster family. We see all the characters at intervals in their lives and, though the earthquake may be history, it and its aftershocks are carried within the psyche of everyone that lived through it. The film culminates with a 2008 Sichaun earthquake that forces our characters to confront one another again. It's incredibly potent and moving drama. Truly!
I, more than anything else you're likely to read, have been purposefully vague about the details of the movie. The film would be better served if its plot unraveled naturally without expectation. Wildly popular in China, "Aftershock" has become that country's highest grossing domestic film ever and was submitted for Academy consideration as China's contender for a Best Foreign Film Oscar (although sadly, it was not nominated). The cast is superb and the screenplay is surprisingly understated. The film is wildly dramatic but it wisely stays away from melodrama. In other hands, this story might have been engineered as weepy and overwrought. Here, I believed the final revelations and reunions because they played on a more realistic keel. They're still likely to make you cry like a baby, but none of the emotion is forced or false. Great actors, with a great screenplay, in a great film. In case I haven't been clear, I think "Aftershock" is quite a special film! Check it out. KGHarris, 10/11.