Back to IndieWire


An epic human drama set in motion by events beyond our control, “Aftershock” sweeps across three crucial decades in recent Chinese history. Acclaimed director Feng Xiaogang’s highly anticipated new film opens and closes with Tangshan and Chengdu, two of the most severe earthquakes ever witnessed. As dramatized in the novel of the same name by Chinese Canadian author Zhang Ling, this story explores the wounds and resilience of a family decimated by loss.

The hot summer night of July 28, 1976, falls on the unsuspecting town of Tangshan, where two seven-year-old twins – born before the introduction of China’s one-child policy – enjoy a typical sibling relationship. Their affectionate quarrels slowly subside into the darkness as they fall asleep amid the modern coolness of a newly purchased electric fan. But during the night, the earth begins to tremble. The children awake to the cries of their mother and the urgent, unthinkable question of a rescue worker: “Who should be saved: the girl or the boy?” Trapped under the same slab, digging out one would inevitably result in collapsing the wreckage onto the other. In a whisper, their mother mutters, “The boy.” Considered dead, the girl is laid to rest next to her father’s corpse, but unexpectedly wakes up the following day as an orphan (beautifully played as an adult by rising star Zhang Jingchu) and tries to adjust to a new life within the loving care of the family who adopts her.

As their two lives take different paths over the years, “Aftershock” uses the core story of the earthquake to explore a controversial issue in Chinese culture – the preference for a son over a daughter – while exploring such complex subjects as survival, family relationships, guilt and post-traumatic stress with equal sensitivity. Feng transforms his characteristically acute and ironic observations of contemporary China into sharp historical analysis. Painting an emotional epic with potent strokes of truth, he has brought to life a new model of disaster cinema that is intimate, choral and uniquely Chinese. [Synopsis courtesy of Giovanna Fulvi, Toronto International Film Festival]