• Tang Shan Da Di Zhen / Aftershock (2010) - An intellectual tearjerker - 7/10 (09/05/17)

    Tang shan da di zhen / Aftershock (2010)

    Aftershock is a highly emotional drama about the Tangshan earthquake. It tells the story of a simple but happy family consisting of a father, a mother and two twins, a daughter and a son. When the earthquake hits, the father dies when he tries to rescue his children. The young kids are trapped under a large slab of concrete. Lifting the slab to save one child would mean to probably kill the other one as well. The surviving mother who just witnessed her husband die must make a quick choice whether she wants to try to save her daughter or her son. She feels unable to take such a decision but doesn't have any choice and ultimately chooses to save her son.

    The son is saved but loses his arm. Ridden by guilt and unable to turn the page, his mother lives as a recluse and refuses to get married again. She is afraid to let her son go away from home when he is older because she knows she will be all alone at that moment. He becomes a rickshaw driver and eventually the boss of a successful travel agency. He tries to leave his difficult past behind. He gets married and has a son but his mother doesn't want to live with them or move to another place which leads to conflicts, debates and discussions between the mother, her son and her daughter-in-law as old emotional wounds are opened again.

    On the other side, the daughter has miraculously survived the earthquake as she wakes up next to her father's dead body. Traumatized by the events, she first lives in a military camp before she gets adopted by a couple that doesn't have any children of its own. In the beginning, she refuses to speak and accept her new family. While her foster father is very gentle and patient with her, her foster mother is quite emotional and severe because she always wanted to have a daughter and is afraid of losing her. As she grows up, the girl studies medicine but gets pregnant in the last year of her studies. When her boyfriend tries to convince her to abort the child, she is unable to do this because of her childhood memories. She is shocked, leaves her boyfriend, doesn't finish her studies and moves to another town where she earns some money as a private English teacher. She tries to forget about her difficult past but when she meets a Canadian lawyer and decides to move to Vancouver, she has to go see her foster father again who is bitterly disappointed that she left town and didn't even bother to call or contact him.

    The twins meet again by chance thirty-two years after the Tangshan earthquake when both volunteer to rescue the victims of the Sichuan earthquake since they know how terrible such an earthquake can be. The young woman accepts to finally meet the mother that decided to let her die twenty-two years earlier. A broken family reunites and has to deal with sorrow, loss and despair but ends up finding forgiveness, hope and optimism.

    Aftershock convinces on many levels. The acting performances are very authentic. The movie touches many philosophical topics and exposes numerous ambiguous, difficult and life-changing decisions and situations. The story has epic proportions and remains yet profoundly human. The movie shows all characters with their flaws and strengths which makes the viewers feel empathy for them.

    On the other side, the film's extremely emotional vibe gets a little bit overtly melodramatic at times. The movie is also at least half an hour too long and it's quite tough to sit through a series of tear-jerking events for far over two hours. The movie loses some momentum towards the middle when the prodigal daughter mourns the death of her foster mother or when the handicapped son argues with his wife. On the other side, the moment when the two twins talk to each other for the first time in thirty-two years isn't shown. This would have been one of the climaxes of the movie and I can't understand why the director didn't emphasize on it.

    In the end, Aftershock is a very philosophical drama. It convinces with authentic characters and great actors and an overall gripping story that convinces both emotionally and intellectually. On the other side, it has an overlong middle section and is quite hard to digest at times. Fans of Asian cinema and profound dramas should watch this movie but it isn't as essential as some critics claim the film to be.

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