China's highest-grossing domestic movie opens with a horrifically realistic recreation of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which leaves Yuan Ni (Xu Fan) widowed and forced to choose which of her two children to save.
The subsequent melodrama boils the pot over decades of guilt and grief until another disaster brings things full circle.
Lavishly mounted and acted with grace, Feng Xiaogang’s blockbuster sadly mimics the worst of Hollywood’s excesses, pairing gratuitous shock with patriotism and a flood of tear-jerking moments calculated for awards bodies’ consideration.
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