Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Since 2010 Cannes I heard about this film but with the English name of Aftershock honestly I paid no attention to the film and with a literal translation of Tangshan Earthquake I was not going to be a masochist to watch an earthquake film when I actually lived a real -massive-deadly one. Plus knowing that was the first IMAX movie made outside USA didn’t add to my interest as I imagined the end-product was going to be a mess. So I forgot about it. You have no idea how WRONG I was.
All right there is an earthquake in the film at the beginning -good special effects- but my skeptical (and scary) me tried to laugh with the special effects and was repeating to myself: is not real, are special effects. The only thing missing was a small (or big) real earthquake (every day there are many where I live now, but not all are perceptible to humans) and I know I’ll be running out of where I was watching the film. My skepticism didn’t last long as without noticing I was already absolutely inside the movie living the earthquake, the aftermath plus the narrative kept me inside for the entire movie feeling all kind of emotions, with my 5 senses in complete motion, and yes, I cried like a baby a few times. When was over I was exhausted but absolutely felt that I watched a Great Movie that moved me beyond my wildest imagination. Extraordinary and outstanding film by Feng Xiaogang, a director I was not familiar with as such but that I recalled -after watching photo- as an actor in crazy Kung Fu Hustle.
Basically film tells the story of three family members that survived the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, two very young twins and their mother. The uniquely emotional story goes from 1976 up to 2008 when the Sichuan earthquake happens. In between those 32 years you will see –and live- a very moving and compelling story of Yuan Ni, the mother, Da Feng, the son, and Fang Deng, the daughter. Just this story is more than worth to watch the movie but there is also another story in the background, shown so flawlessly entangled with the family story that becomes very natural: the story of China’s transformation over the past 40 years with all its political, economical and social changes. For sure the best China recent history movie I have ever watch and I have watched quite a few that do the same –one front story with a secondary China history in the back- but this one is outstanding.
As a movie is superb with flawless performances by young and older actors (that I suspect many were non actors, as many extras were real-life 1976 earthquake survivors), cinematography that allows you to live the disaster but after absolutely complements and integrates to the drama (and trauma) as well as camera moves and framing evolve with the times the narrative is telling and goes from classic compositions to more modern storytelling techniques. As a matter of fact tech specs in the movie are very interesting, but won’t bore you with how great they are.
I hate they named the film Aftershock in English as does not allow/facilitate many that love Chinese cinema to realize that this film is not Hollywood, is not a “special effects” disaster movie, and definitively there is no aftershock (strict word definition) after the 1976 earthquake. This is great Chinese cinema as good as many extraordinary films from better-known to me directors like Jia Zhang ke or Zhang Yimou, for example. But I found one very-important difference; this powerful film looks and feels with more universal appeal than any other good Chinese cinema films I have seen, this is a film that world audiences could be exposed to and they could cheer as a good film. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if always ‘strange’ Academy members are moved and give this grand epic film the top award in 2011 as the film truly deserves it. But you never know with them.
You cannot enjoy or love this film for the story, but is a very satisfying and complete cinematic experience that I know will move many and it is obvious but I strongly recommend it as must be seen for everyone in the world. Still, I know that in-between the two earthquakes the film evolves like great Chinese cinema which is unfamiliar territory for many and wonder if they could appreciate the film to the full greatness. Nevertheless I imagine that if you’re not familiar with good Chinese cinema you could be moved by the story and maybe will realize how great Chinese cinema can be.
Watch trailer @MOC