'Aftershock' to rattle China exhibitors, filmgoers

Drama opens Thursday in record number of theaters

"Aftershock," a drama about one of the deadliest earthquakes ever, is due to shake more movie theaters across China than any film in history, opening Thursday on more than 3,500 screens.

The first non-English Imax film, "Aftershock," by perennial hitmaker Feng Xiaogang, is already making waves in China. Test audiences were reported to have come out of theaters in tears as the movie -- about the July 1976 Tangshan quake whose official death toll was 255,000 -- is topical for many Chinese who were witness to a 2008 temblor that killed more than 80,000 in Sichuan, including more than 5,000 schoolchildren.

"Aftershock" follows a mother (Xu Fan) widowed by the Tangshan quake to the school where her two children are buried alive. She can only save one and chooses her son, but her daughter overhears her decision through the rubble.

Surviving, the daughter (Zhang Jingchu) is adopted and moves to America, where she joins the medical profession. Decades later, when another major quake hits China, the daughter returns to help the rescue and seeks resolution with her mom.

Known as a master of contemporary comedy, Feng has been criticized but those who say "Aftershock" is too laden with product placements.

The 135-minute film, made for 100 million yuan ($14.76 million), contains at least six obviously placed products, including alcohol, a bank, insurance, a cell phone, a car and sportswear, reports said.

"Like it or not, product placement is and will be an important part of the Chinese film industry," Feng said last week.

Though earlier reports said distributor Huayi Brothers Media and Imax would release the film in select international theaters on July 28, there are no foreign openings scheduled.

"Time will tell," said Greg Foster, chairman and president of Imax filmed entertainment. "It's a very powerful film, and we are as committed as ever to our relationship with China."

"Aftershock" is the first film in a three-picture deal that Huayi and Imax signed in June 2009.

"It's not a coincidence that our first non-English-language film is a Chinese film," Foster said. "We take our relationship with China very seriously. It's a way to amp up and turbo-charge the region."

"Aftershock" will arrive on 11 Imax digital screens in China and on the UA Lark digital Imax screen in Hong Kong.

Imax this year grossed $24 million off of 14 first-run releases of "Avatar" in China.
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