11 August 2010


Directed by 冯小刚, the movie is based on the catastrophic earthquake of magnitude 7.8 that rocked the sleeping Tangshan, an industrial prefecture city in Hebei Province of China, on 3:42 am on 28 July 1976 and claimed the lives of at least 240,000 people.

My paternal grandparents hailed from Tangshan, so the movie was closer to home than I could ever imagine. I have never been there before, but I saw through glimpses from the movie how the place changed from the 70's to today.

The movie was played by the following main cast:

张静初 (as ) - the little girl in the poster
帆 (as ) - as the mother
李晨 (as ) - as the brother

Usually, I don't like to tell the plot of the story, but I will make an exception here. The story revolves around the lives of the above 3 characters, whose lives were changed entirely and completely as a result of the natural disaster that broke their family apart.

On a quiet night in 1976, the earthquake happened out of a sudden without any warning in the pre-dawn hours when most of its people were asleep. All the buildings collapsed, killing thousands of people, including the husband of 妮, who sacrificed his life to save her. The fraternal twins were trapped under a huge piece of rubble, and 妮 was forced to make a choice on which one amongst them to save before the tremors claimed both of them.

As a mother, she naturally wanted to save both children but in the end, she uttered "救弟弟....". These 3 words formed the premise for the rest of the movie. Because of that decision, 妮 and her daughter 登 were haunted for 32 years by their own demons. She left behind 登, whom she presumed was dead, to save her son, who lost one arm in the earthquake. Little did 妮 know that 登 was saved and was subsequently adopted by a couple of army personnels.

So 妮 single-handedly raised 达 with her own bare hands. She refused and turned away a prospective suitor because she felt her husband gave up his life for her and she could only repay him in the only way that she knew, by staying single and faithful to him for the rest of her life. As 达 grew up, he made good and became wealthy enough to buy her a bigger house, but she refused to move out of the house that was rebuilt for fear that the husband and daughter could not find their way home in the netherworld.

Meanwhile, 登 lived a better and comfortable life, went to university to pursue a doctor's degree and witnessed the passing of her adopted mother. She became pregnant at age 22, dropped out of her studies and ran away from home on her own when her then fellow senior boyfriend pushed her for an abortion. She only returned home to see her adoptive father years later to announce her wedding to a foreigner and her decision to move to Canada with him. The adopted father and daughter were reconciled but 登 could not forgive and forget about the 妮's past decision to abandon her.

The movie was shown through four decades 1976, 1986, 1997, 2008 and when an earthquake shook China in 2008, 登 decided to return to China to help the quake victims. By then, 达 was married with a son and was also well-to-do enough to send supplies to help the victims and at the same time, lent his assistance at the site. By coincidence, the two siblings met and were reunited.

Thereafter were the 2 most touching scenes of the film.

达 brought 登 home to be reunited with the mother. The reunion was initially greeted by an unusually calm reception between the two. When 登 entered the house, she saw a water basin filled with persimmons. This brought back memories of the night when the disaster happened because 妮 gave the only persimmon they had then to the younger brother. This small detail showed that 妮 remembered that 登 went without the fruit on that fateful night before they went to bed and were separated ever since. But 妮 eventually broke down into hysteria, knelt down and in between sobs asked 登 for forgiveness for abandoning her in the past. The longing and pining of a mother for a lost child for 32 whole years was portrayed completely through her self-inflicted guilt and crumbling emotions. 登, on the other hand, was not as moved.

The next scene where the entire family went to pay their respects to the dead father was the other scene that touched my nerves. When 达 opened up a concealed compartment of the tomb and showed 登 the books that 妮 bought for them when they were young and kept till that day, it was the daughter's turn to break down in tears. 登 had for many years blamed her mother for giving up on her, but finally realized that despite the passing of 32 years, she always occupied an undeniable and unforgettable part in her mother's heart and in fact, was the source of her mother's misery for the three decades that followed the disaster. Her mother could not put behind memories of her and lived only in isolation due to this unwavering love for her and her husband. 登's stubbornness and hatred for 妮 was what kept them apart in her adult years and with that realization, all negative feelings towards 妮 completely melted away.

Finally, the whole family was reunited and with that the movie ended. There were definitely quite a few touching scenes, so unless the heart is stone-cold or if the watcher could not identify with or relate to the stronger emotional feelings that were portrayed, there would certainly be tears that would be shed.

帆's performance as the mother was stellar and pivotal to the entire movie. To me, she was the best part of the movie. Hopefully, all of you enjoy the movie as much as I did. Two interesting links are provided below:
  1. http://www.mtime.com/movie/99400/plots.html
  2. http://history1900s.about.com/od/horribledisasters/a/tangshan.html