Aftershock, directed by Feng Xiaogang, 2010, China

a film adaptation of the novel by Chinese Canadian author Zhang Ling, 2006

Fang Daqiang 方大强 A truck driver working for a state-owned factory; he used to serve in the People’s Liberation Army and settles in Tangshan where he is married to Yuanni instead of going back to Jinan, Shandong Province, where his sister and mother live; on the day of the Tangshan earthquake on August 28, 1976, Daqiang and his wife happen to be out in the open, away from the apartment in which their children are asleep; the quake lasts 23 seconds; in order to save their children, both parents try to go back into the apartment, however, Daqiang drags his wife back and risks his own life by going into the apartment complex; he is crushed to death when the building collapses; later his dead body is pulled out from under a pile of debris;

Li Yuanni, 李元妮, a native of Tangshan, wife to Fang Daqiang, in her 30s, employed at the factory where her husband works; uninterested in seeing other men after her husband dies trying to saves her life during the quake; also torment by her own sense of guilt; when asked by the rescuing workers if they should save her son or daughter, both pinned down beneath one huge cement slab, she decides to save her son, a culturally and politically correct choice in a patrilineal society; since both kids are either side of the slab, to save one would almost for sure cause the death of the other; while telling the rescue workers her decision, her voice is within the ear shot of her daughter still alive; it bothers her conscience in the past 30 years since the quake; as wife and mother, she refuses to move away from her old house, believing that the spirits of her husband and daughter will return one day; she does everything possible to bring up her son and sees to it that he lives a normal life

Fang Deng 方登: only 7 in 1976 but knows enough to know that her mother prefers and favors her twin brother who is born only 5 minutes after her; after the rescue workers take her out of the debris and lay her body along with all the dead, it starts to rain and she comes to, walking away from the dead; a year later she is adopted by a military couple of the People’s Liberation Army; forever haunted by her mother’s words, “save brother” which traumatize her for a long time, she does not want to return to Tangshan even when her foster-father urges her to do so; she keeps telling him she cannot remember the past when in fact she is unable to forget the moment when her mother decides to sacrifice her for her brother; becomes a medical student but abandoned by her boyfriend after she is pregnant at the age of 22; as a single mother with a daughter out of wedlock, she is out of touch with her foster-parents for years, and marries a Canadian man living in Vancouver; when earthquake strikes again in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province, in 2008, she felt compelled to return to China to help the quake victims and by chance meets Fang Da who is also one of the volunteer rescue workers; she finally meets her mother and makes peace with her because while in Wenchuan she sees a mother asking the rescue workers to cut her daughter’s leg so as not to expose them to further danger; then and there she understands the meaning of sacrifice as well as the choices that mothers often make;
Fang Da 方达Fang Deng’s brother and twin, although survives the quake, his badly injured left army has to be amputated; driven by his strong filial piety and equally strong sense of gratitude for his mother’s love for him, he does his best to obey her and goes out of his way to please her; even as a amputee and disabled, he works his way up and becomes a well-to-do business manager; marries and has a son; when Wenchuan earthquake hits in 2008, he is one of the volunteer rescuers from Tangshan to help the quake victims, driven by human compassion and a sense of brotherhood with those who also fall victim of the quake like he did 32 years ago;
Wang Deqing, 王德清, a PLA officer and foster-father of Fang Deng, then an orphan and quake victim; he likes her the first time he sees her not for selfish reasons but out of compassion; the father-daughter bond is strong and he treats Fang Deng with love and respect, no less than with his biological daughter if he had one; often encourages his daughter to go back to Tangshan to find relatives if there are any left; he believes that people are connected by kindness and compassion; (in the novel, the step father is a child molester who rapes Fang Deng when she is 13.)

Dong Guilan, 董桂兰, Fang Deng’s foster-mother and wife to Wang Deqing, works as an army doctor; narrow-minded, selfish, and distrustful, fearing that Fang Deng would one day leave them after she goes away to study or work; even accuses her husband of molesting Fang Deng; she dies of cancer after making peace with both husband and daughter;

Yang Zhi 杨志, Fang Deng’s boyfriend in college, a native of Hangzhou where the medical school is located; selfish and irresponsible; he wants Fang Deng to terminate her pregnancy because he is not ready to be a father; after she refuses his callous disregard of human life, he breaks off with her and goes to the U.S. to study and is never in touch with her or his daughter again; (in the novel he as a character steals Fang Deng’s creative writing and publishes it as his own.)

Xiao He 小河, Fang Da’s wife, trying to be agreeable in every way to both her husband and her mother-in-law; often unhappy with her husband more devoted to his mother than her; as a young mother, she has to agree to let her mother-in-law keep her new-born; she cannot compete with her mother-in-law unwilling to move to the south to live with them

Lao Niu: 老牛, also a retired a factory worker and a handy man very good with electrical appliances; in love with Yuanni and pursues her for years; he always does favor for her, letting her make and receive phone calls to and from her son until she has her own phone; by confessing his love for her one night, he blows his chance to marry her and their friendship of many years;

Alexander, Fang Deng’s Canadian husband, 16 years her senior, willing to marry her and accept her daughter by Yang Zhi; during the Wenchuan earthquake, he encourages his wife Fang Deng to return to China to help the quake victims;


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