Movie review: Back to 1942

SINGAPORE - Director Feng Xiaogang's epic tearjerker following 2010's Aftershock is a shocking and poignant look into a slice of China's history.

Based on the 1942 famine in Henan which killed 3 million people and created tens of millions of refugees, the film stars actor Zhang Guoli as wealthy landlord Fan who treks on foot with his family for more than a month during winter to look for food.

The central characters, played by Xu Fan, Fiona Wang and Zhang's son Zhang Mo, are fleshed out in detail as they slip into desperation and madness, their survival instinct over-riding dignity and decency.

Hollywood actor Adrien Brody plays real-life American journalist Theodore H. White, whose reports and pictures of the exodus shamed the corrupt ruling Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-shek. Tim Robbins also has a role as a priest.

Multiple tragedies and the ongoing Japanese occupation make this film heart-rendingly bleak. Unlike Aftershock, which is about a family separated after the Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the refugees.

This is no festive fare but the compelling story and the cast's superb portrayals make it a must-see.

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