Aftershock, a Chinese film based on the events of the 1976 earthquake in Tangshan, China that claimed the lives of an estimated 240,000 people, is a touching film based on decision making and the value of human life.
Based on the book Aftershock by Ling Zhang, the film illustrates the collapse of a house in Tangshan, in Hebei province, in which seven year old twins, Fang Da and Fang Deng, are trapped under a large piece of concrete beneath an enormous pile of rubble. The twins’ father is killed in the process of entering the building to rescue his children, but mother Li Yuanna lives and is faced with a choice to save one of her two children at the expense of the other’s life. As she looks deep beneath the rubble into the eyes of her trapped son, Li Yuanna hastily decides to save his life while understanding that the other side of the concrete slab will crush and kill daughter Fang Deng.
Surprisingly, Fang Deng lives through the weight of the concrete and ends up being rescued and adopted by a military couple who welcomes the confused child as their own daughter. Her foster parents raise Fang Deng to be a happy child and successful student until she becomes pregnant before finishing her final year of college. The 21-year old Fang Deng is then presented with a choice of her own: abort her child and graduate, or give birth and become a mother.
The story covers a period of 32 years, from the Tangshan earthquake in 1976 until 2008 when grown Fang Deng and brother Fang Da are coincidentally reunited as they assist rescue efforts for another earthquake in Sichuan in 2008.
The most outstanding aspect of the film is its outlook on the preciousness of a human life and the importance of forgiving others. After 32 years of remorse for choosing one of her children over the other, Li Yuanna is baffled to find that her daughter had not only survived the 1976 earthquake, but that Fang Deng had allowed her mother to suffer for over three decades without ever returning home or giving notice to her family that she was alive. The reunion of Fang Deng and her mother explores the conflicting opinions and pain felt by both parties on that awful day in Tangshan, and how not being able to forgive and seek understanding led to drastic changes in the lives and structure of the entire family.
Because of the constant action and subplots, Aftershock‘s 2 hours and 12 minutes seem to pass by in no more than an hour and a half. The messages of forgiveness and unselfishness hit incredibly hard, regardless of a viewer’s family situation or political stance, as the film uses one of the largest natural disasters in modern history to focus on some of the smallest and most important aspects of human life.