By Cassandra Cupka
When watching Aftershock it quickly becomes evident to viewers why the film has burgeoned into such a success. The plot contains interesting and innovative concepts that I have not seen before in either book or film. Not to mention, the large historical connections make it especially appealing to Chinese audiences who would have full or near full comprehension of the context of the movie. Additionally, from an international film critic’s perspective, the film has a variety of stimulating editing and acting choices. What I found to be the most intriguing, however, was Fang Deng’s dream of her childhood during her early adulthood years. The complex lighting, camera movements, editing, etc., makes it a perfect sequence for film analysis.
The very first shot of the section makes it evident to the audience that this is a dream sequence. The film-makers make this evident through lighting, setting color, shot transitions, and music. Within the first shot the simplistic and eerie music is introduced, giving the entire sequence a dream-like state. The setting is placed in low key lighting, emphasizing the fact that this sequence is taking place at night, the hour of sleep. The dream-like quality of the first shot becomes extremely evident as the entire setting becomes black and white except for Fang Deng, accentuating the fact that this is her dream. In addition, this initial shot is taken from behind Fang Deng while she is walking, as if the viewers are going to follow her on a journey; often the purpose of dreams is to take individuals through a psychological journey in order to bring them mental clarity. In this case, we are following Fang Deng through a brief journey into her past.
With the introduction of Fang Deng’s biological family into the sequences, it quickly becomes unmistakable that Fang Deng is dreaming about her past and recalling memories. However, there are other film qualities that the editors have utilized in order to make this point apparent. For example, not only does the transition to the black and white setting give the sequence a dream-like appearance, but also an old one. Throughout her dream the shots are of varying length and the transitions alternate between slow and quick. This gives a type of ‘memory effect’; some memories can be remembered better than others, exemplified by the varying shot lengths. In addition, memories can be recalled at different paces, emphasized by the various lengths of the shot transitions. Additionally, these aspects give the scene an asymmetrical quality which can add to the sequence’s off-putting dream effect. These shots are also connected by fade in and fade out edits with the fade color being white. The white contributes not only to the misty quality of the dream, but can symbolize a flash in the quick shot transitions, like a flash of memory. Finally, in some of the shots her family is shown riding past her in both fast and slow motion, emphasizing the discontinuity of memory recollection. Additionally, this aspect also contributes to the unrealism of the dream universe.
References to the past are also made via the behavior and appearance of Fang Deng in her dream sequence; in these shots she is made to appear as a little girl. She is costumed in a high-waisted skirt and a white dress shirt, much like a young girl might wear to school. In addition, her hair is styled in the youthful fashion of pigtails. Finally, in the initial shot Fang Deng is walking slowly, placing one foot directly in front of the other. Unless taking a sobriety test, most adults would not walk like this. Instead, this exemplifies a type of child’s play. In this sequence Fang Deng reverts to her most vulnerable form: an abandoned child.
The most interesting aspect of this sequence, however, is what it all signifies to Fang Deng. Since she never overtly conveys this meaning, it is up to the viewer to interpret it from the clues the film’s creators have left behind. In the sequence, the diegetic sound of her family talking and laughing can be heard. As they laugh and ride on the bike, never once do they look Fang Deng’s way, even though she uses the figure behavior of raising her hand to attempt to get their attention. This is saying that her family has either forgotten about her or moved on, with no regrets; her father is resting happily in his afterlife and her brother and mother have constructed a new joyful family, all without her (or at least this is how Fang Deng feels). Even though she pictures her family moving forward, suggested by her family riding forward on the bike, she sees herself as trapped in the past. Her mentality is exemplified not only by her child-like appearance, but the costuming of her family. As her family rides by it can be seen that they are wearing the same clothes they were fashioning at the beginning of the film, on the day of the earthquake. In addition, her mother also holds the prop of a fan, the same fan her father bought on the day of the earthquake. While her family rides forward, a part of Fang Deng remains entombed under the slab of concrete.