Disaster movies tends to treat a natural disaster as the centerpiece or spectacle of the film. Forgetting to spend time exploring the human side of such an event and the profound effect it can have on a person’s life. Tangshan dadizhen (Aftershock in English) is unlike many in its league distinguishing itself by having a human core in the center of it all. I’ll even dare call it the greatest natural disaster film ever made.
Tangshan dadizhen (Aftershock) tells the story of a family separated as a result of the Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976. Upon the first the act we get the basic setup; a loving family bond, a day in a pre-natural disaster state, and establishing the state of mind an entire nation’s people. Essential character development flourishes within the first act of the film presenting a loving average family. These moments of character development early in the film are important as the natural disaster occurs earlier than one’s might expect. Narrative wise this choice could have damaged the film having the disaster occur within the first act, but in this film the Earthquake nor the mayhem it causes the focus. Instead the natural disaster is a defining incident in our character live through that forever change them. It’ll pull heartstrings seeing a mother desperately looking for her children in the shambles of what remains for her city with citizens frantically acting to help. What occurs to the mother is difficult to watch in an emotionally devastating scene. For the purpose of that scene and anyone interested in seeing the film I won’t give the specifics of what occurs away possibly lessening its impact.
Once the Earthquake hits the majority of the film is a centerpiece on the impact the Earthquake had on the characters. We see them grow up attempting to forget the horrific past. Bringing up at one point by a survivor while mourning the lost it might have been better to die than live with it scars. The character lives expresses the aftermath has on the victims and attempting to live a regular life. It’s relatable regardless of your position in experiencing a natural disaster. Certainly not everyone will experience what it is liked living through an Earthquake, but everyone at one point will be come to face a trouble romance, leaving your parents living in the world on your own, being stuck in memories living on a glorious past during a unpleasant present, starting a family, and many more reflectable themes. Putting into to perspectives that forces far from our control has to complexities to it than a simple statistic and our best wishes. It’s a fully realized story that fleshes out human natures with it characters from tragedies and the uplifting nature of family.
All the performances are fully realized with it cast of actors casting a smile and tear on your face. Xu Fan leads the film with her performance as a depress mother. Fan character carries her scars the longest delivery a performance that’s not too overly emotional to detract from realism. She comes as someone cold and damaged never to point where we see her as a machine. Weaving a character whose humanity is still in tact, but baring years of scar both physically and how she verbally deliver her line. Zhang Jingchu strength is the ability to make a character performance so believable yet human. Chen Li is all class and humane as the caring fostering father of Guoqiang Zhang. His portrayal of the fatherly role is fitting and steals the show with his glaring eyes. His moments of anger are a joy to watch, along with his interaction with his wife and daughter.
Tangshan dadizhen (Aftershock) is tragically powerful as it emotionally moving. an expression of life and the difficult struggles that come with it. By the end of the film you will be given a better perspectives on such disastrous incidents. Life changes people sometime with forces out of our control, but never are common struggles and people are far from our understanding.