I went into the screening of ‘Aftershock’ expecting to be overwhelmed by scenes of people trapped in rubble and the heroics of rescue workers. Much like how the news footage of the recent Sichuan earthquake overwhelmed me.
I was overwhelmed. Not by scenes of the earthquake. Those were over in minutes. I was overwhelmed by a simple story that is engaging and raw with emotions. I was overwhelmed by a story that is as universal as the natural disaster itself.
Most of all, I was overwhelmed by the director. With a steady hand, he gently leads us through one real moment after another. By the time the story is told, we have all lived through 3 decades in communist China. We all have relatives in Tangshan and we all have lost loved ones. We all have lived through having made the most difficult decision in our lives and we all have to face the consequences of such a decision.
And when we reawakened to the fact that it was just a movie, we started to examine our real feelings towards our real family members.
Today is the anniversary of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. That ‘Aftershock’ will break box office records across Asia will come as no surprise to anyone in the film industry.
What is surprising is Feng Xiaogang’s quiet confidence. He had no need to proof to anyone, least of all to Hollywood, that China could produce a disaster movie with equal if not better effects. With such a sensational premise, he chose instead to just focus on story telling. There is melodrama, but contained melodrama, given the extent of human drama involved.
I am still hooked. Line and sinker. Amazed at how a Chinese director has matured. To direct a disaster movie, on the biggest natural disaster in history, and sidestep cinematic expectations by going back to basics. By showing the compelling appeal of simplicity. By concentrating on real human drama so that this historic disaster can be more real to modern audiences.