Filmmaking in a Climate of Caution

In the New York Times, Richard Bernstein looks at the new IMAX blockbuster by Feng Xiaogang, Aftershock, about the 1976 Tangshan earthquake:

Called “Aftershock” in English, the movie depicts with impressive, extremely realistic special effects the devastating earthquake that hit the city of Tangshan 34 years ago, killing 240,000 people. More important, it then follows the emotional and psychological impact the disaster had on one family over the next three decades.

…“You have to be very strong to see it, because it’s so realistic,” wrote one blogger, who identified himself as a survivor of the Tangshan disaster. “The movie makes you understand how precious life is.”

The film’s backers are also happily proclaiming that “Aftershock” will mark a new stage in the international commercial prospects of Chinese movies. It’s not just that it has already broken the box office record for a Chinese film in the domestic market, topping $78 million since it opened. It’s also the first Chinese movie to be made in partnership with IMAX, the Canadian company that specializes in huge-screen projections, and it’s expected to show on IMAX screens all over the world.

…But not everybody here is convinced that “Aftershock” is so great, one of those people being Mr. Feng, the director, himself, who in interviews with Chinese journalists has expressed, discreetly but unmistakably, his frustration with the limitations still placed on expression in this country.

“The movie gets just a passing grade,” one commentator on the Chinese Web site said.

“It’s a new version of the old model plays and operas,” a Chinese friend told me, referring to the showy productions once sponsored by Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong, in which brave revolutionary stalwarts rescue the suffering victims of evil landlords.

Watch the film’s trailer:

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