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Film tells the story of hope after the deadly 2008 Wenchuan earthquake


Even in the midst of death and destruction, hope continues if you look with enough force. This is the message a movie is conveying at a time when the entire planet is in the midst of the worst pandemic in decades.

The Chinese movie “108” – or “Wonder in the Temple”, as it is known in English – tells the story of more than 100 pregnant women born after a devastating earthquake in southwestern Sichuan Province 12 years ago. The May 8, Wenchuan earthquake, left more than 80,000 people dead or missing. Villages have been destroyed, including schools full of children, and their landslides have been precipitated by poor construction materials.

Based on real stories, the movie follows women when they take refuge in a Buddhist temple in Shifang City-level, where they then give birth to 108 children. With the earthquake caused massive damage to the local maternity hospital, where women were waiting for birth, the temple was one of the few structures that remained nearly intact.

“After many lives died, there were newborns,” film director Kong Jiahuan told Sixth Tone. “The number 108 is the collective memory that we want to preserve. … The lives of 108 people brought hope to the people who suffered the tragedy.”

The abbot (in yellow) represents the Buddhist temple of a group photo with 108 children born there after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, Shifang, Sichuan Province, 2018. Courtesy of Wan Li

The birth of 108 children in the temple has become a favorite story among the locals, as the number bears auspicious importance in Buddhism.

“108” was filmed in the temple and its surroundings, and more than 90% of the additions survived in the earthquake, according to Kung.

“We wanted to make a movie that helped people see that we need to understand each other and support each other in times of crisis,” he said. “For me, those who have suffered (the earthquake) must have different feelings … so using ordinary people as actors can preserve these sincere feelings.”

“108” was shown in May at the Beijing International Film Festival, which turned into a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic. Its launch comes at a time when China and most countries of the world are still fighting an infectious disease that has so far killed more than 328,000 people.

Like Kong, other Chinese filmmakers as well as ordinary citizens have used the video as a way to share stories of people who fight infection, document crowded hospitals and abandoned streets in Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first discovered.

Historical natural disasters have served as a precursor to many Chinese films over the years. Feng Xiaogang, the catastrophic drama “Afterchuck”, which occurred in the aftermath of the most devastating Tangshan earthquake in 1976, was a huge success after its launch in 2010.

Kong said he hoped for the “108” premiere to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake this month. However, this plan was halted when the official permission to reopen the country’s cinemas was delayed due to public health concerns.

“The current weather is very similar,” Kong said, comparing the emotional losses from the earthquake to the epidemic.

Editor: Bebek Bhandari.

(Header photo: “108.” promotional poster)


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