Posts Tagged ‘feng xiaogang’

Shelly on Film: Tremors and Traumas: Notes on Three Chinese Earthquake Movies

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

By Shelly Kraicer

Buried (dir. Wang Libo)

It’s been earthquake movie season in China ever since the terrible Wenchuan earthquake that struck Sichuan province on May 12th 2008. I’ve seen fourteen of these films since then — documentaries, features, and shorts, including titles like May Day, Don’t Cry Mom, Who Killed Our Children, and Quake de Love — and I’ve by no means done a systematic search. This doesn’t include the films that mention the earthquake in passing: the number would then increase three- or four-fold.

What makes this subject so essential for Chinese filmmakers to grapple with? The Sichuan earthquake is a disaster seared into the consciousness of most people living in China, where national mass media gave saturation coverage to the earthquake and its aftermath. The subject naturally lends itself both to propaganda-style tales of heroic rescure and moral uplift, and equally to outsider critiques of government policies that made the destruction worse. It seems that there is an earthquake for every political colouring, and every possible calibration of mass media coverage (and exploitation).

I’d like to look a bit more closely at a couple of films from what we might call opposite ends of the spectrum, and one right in the middle. On one end is Wang Libo’s Buried (Yanmai), an independent documentary from 2009. Situated at the other end of is Feng Xiaogang’s massive blockbuster Aftershock (Tangshan da dizhen, 2010), the most popular Chinese film in history, measured by the box office. And right in the middle is 1428, Du Haibin’s documentary from 2009.


Cinematic Earthquakes: Thoughts on Aftershock and 1428

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

By Isabella Tianzi Cai and Kevin B. Lee

Aftershock (dir. Feng Xiaogang)

The 1976 Tangshan Earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters in China’s history and believed to be the deadliest earthquake of the twentieth century. It had a magnitude of 7.8 and an estimated number of casualties between 212,419 to 719,000. Aftershock, director Feng Xiaogang’s dramatic feature about the Tangshan Earthquake, is set to be released July 22. Budgeted at 138 million RMB (over $20 million US), it is primed to be the film event of the summer for Chinese cinemas. To behold such a big-budget spectacular about a historical tragedy raises several questions about the film, chiefly: how it will recount the details of a historical tragedy while satisfying audiences as big-budget mass entertainment?

It is worth noting that the Censorship Board of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television of China gave Aftershock virtually no obstacle in production and distribution. Such lack of interference is very rare within the Chinese film industry. Many board members are said to have cried during the screening of the film, feeling deeply touched by the story. Clearly it is a state-approved account of history, every word, sentiment and action reviewed and approved. What bearing this has on the merits of the film remains to be seen upon its release. For now, we can contrast Feng Xiaogang’s production with another recent film about a similar historic tragedy in China.
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Shelly on Film: Between the Cracks of Capitalist China

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

By Shelly Kraicer

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It’s always an interesting time to be in China, a place seemingly without uninteresting times. To be here now, though, lets you see a singular moment in society floating, unpinned, somewhere in between two bankrupt ruling ideologies. The collapse of official Communism/Maoism/Socialism with Chinese characteristics, as the ruling thinking evolved from pre-Liberation through the Cultural Revolution to post-Mao Dengism, is the keynote for lots of standard accounts of China today.

Traditional Chinese culture was, for a time, obliterated by various more or less radical and institutional versions of leftist ideology. These slowly disappeared in fact, though the rote sloganeering formulas persist, especially around the “liang hui” or annual meeting of the Chinese government’s legislative bodies, that took place in the spring. Following Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, and the unbridled embrace of wealth-concentration and manifest corruption in the Jiang Zemin era, the new god became capitalism, in its rawest, unregulated forms. Free market ideology imported from its Western exponents has washed over China, pushing some groups and regions ahead, leaving millions in the interior and the countryside, behind. Now that financial market capitalism is having its own profound existential crisis in the West, does China have to think about tossing out its brand new ruling ideology, right on top of the refuse of the old one? It’s enough to cause a case of ideological whiplash.

What happens when an unstable society starts to face the possibility that its hot new set of ideological nostrums might be just as insubstantial as those it has just recently thrown over? It must be a dizzying sort of disorientation for those Chinese who have invested their new identities in the new ways of thinking.