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Aftershock

Year: 2010
Production Co: Tangshan City Government
Director: Xiogang Feng
Writer: Wu Si
Cast: Li Yuanni, Jingchu Zhang, Chen Li

Don't see this film assuming it's a Roland Emmerich-style orgy of global CGI disaster. There's only one scene involving an Earthquake (albeit done extremely well), the rest is a family drama.

In industrial/rural Tangshan province, 1976, one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent human history killed several hundred thousand people.

With their two young kids alone at home, a young married couple meet in the evening from their respective workplaces to make a little bit of whoopee in the back of a truck.

The quake hits and the city around them crumbles as they run home, some very disturbing and realistic images of sudden death and maiming surrounding them on each side.

Only the wife, Li (Xu) makes it there alive, and when she does rescuers give her the worst possible news. Both her kids are pinned underneath the rubble, saving one of them will kill the other and time is running out.

Her girl, Fang Deng (played by Zhang later as an adult), listens as her distraught mother above sacrifices her and tells the men to save her brother Fang Da (Li) at the other end of the huge concrete slab.

But Fang Deng survives – barely. After her mother and brother have left for shelters, she's dug up and wakes up, finding her way to an army shelter thanks to a kindly soldier. The shock renders her mute for months, and two officers who want a daughter of their own adopt her, assuming her parents to be dead.

At over two hours, the film takes its time showing us both siblings growing up, Fang Da disabled thanks to the loss of an arm but dedicated to his aging mother, Fang Deng studying medicine with the loving encouragement of her adoptive parents.

Years of bittersweet resentment and guilt dog Li and Fang Deng's lives, both held somewhat back by the choice the older woman made on the fateful day. It takes another earthquake in 2008 – when Fang is living in Vancouver and happily married – that the family will be brought together and given the chance to heal.

The focus is on the people and their emotions, the destruction depicted as a story catalyst and nothing else. Had I known I wouldn't have been as interested, but I'm glad I watched it nevertheless. It shows a culture you probably don't know much about, and despite the signature style of Asian cinema overplaying the emotions it's heart-wrenching and high quality.

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