The Children of Huang Shi
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Experience the true story of British journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who snuck across enemy lines in 1937 to expose the Japanese occupation of China. After capture and injury, a Chinese resistance leader, Chen (Chow Yun Fat), had to rescue and send him to hide in a remote orphanage. Now in this foreign land of lost children, far away from the front lines, he's found more stories than he could have ever dreamed. From his true love of an Australian nurse (Radha Mitchell), to his timeless friendships with Chen and the orphans, Hogg discovers a rare courage and the true pleasures of life in the unlikely sanctum of Huang Shi.
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With the help of the Chinese partisan (the great Chow Yun Fat) and a young Australian woman adventurer/nurse (Radha Mitchell), George undertakes an almost unbelievable task: to evacuate the sixty orphan boys in the orphanage he has turned into a school 700 miles through China mountain passes on the Silk Road to the edge of the Gobi Desert, to save them from being conscripted into war.
Beautifully filmed, the movie portrays mid-twentieth century China against breathtaking vistas and crowded cities amidst ancient buildings and sweeping deserts. The full vast scope of China is so gorgeously shown it makes you want to go there, and retells the story of George and his sixty young charges to a new generation of moviegoers who most likely have never heard of the Japanese Occupation. There is a beautiful score as well; the right music compliments a film, and this is all that and more.
I love a good historical drama well told, and there are no missteps here. This was an excellent film.
Technically a few flaws can be found, and most media reviewers are doing so, and completely missing the point of the movie. I do agree that a documentary version of Hogg's efforts really needs to be made, so that even more people can know the true history here, without the artistic embellishment. I also don't think that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was really the best pick for portraying Hogg, as his pretty-boy looks somehow distracts from the character's believability, but his acting is touching nonetheless. The storytelling also does kind of move at a quick pace, and you really have to let what is being said here soak in through your eyes to your heart as it moves along -- that is, the realities of that era and being a child with no home or hope, which is what the story really is about. I think that these things are what has distracted the negative media reviewers from the beauty of the movie, unfortunately.
The story has very tragic points and I won't spoil them here. But I can say that during the final credits, some of the grown-up children that Hogg saved, give their thoughts on him and how he affected their lives, and what they feel they owe him. After the way the movie ends, combined with their sentiments, tears were a foregone conclusion for me and I don't cry at movies. Do see this film, if you are at all interested in Asian history, and children, and the inspiration of a life lived well, the way humans are meant to live -- in humble service to each other. I will definitely be purchasing this DVD when it's released and hopefully it will contain more backstory on Hogg and the children.
George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a journalist assigned to Shanghai in 1937 and with his colleagues he plans to explore the extent of the invasion of China by the Japanese. Under the guise of Red Cross workers his small band manages to enter Nanjing where now alone due to the loss of his friends to battle he observes and photographs the atrocities of mass murders of the people of Nanjing. He is captured by the Japanese, tortured when his confiscated camera reveals his terrifying photographs, and it is only by acts of fortune and the aid of a Chinese Nationalist Chen Hansheng (Chow Yun-Fat) that he escapes. Hogg probes the Chinese countryside for further evidences of the evil of the Japanese invasion, and he finds a village of children (adults are all absent) and realizes that he is in an orphanage without a leader. At first reluctant to assume the role of guardian of these impoverished and filthy frightened children, he soon accepts his responsibility and is challenged by an Australian nurse Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell) to become not only the caretaker but also the father/teacher/provider/role model these children so desperately need.
Seeing the advancing of the Japanese, Hogg decides to take his wards 700 mile away to a small village by the Gobi desert reachable only by the infamous Silk Road. It is this journey and the way both the children and Hogg are affected by the challenge that absorb the greater part of the film. Observing the transformation of George Hogg's view of the world is made credible by Jonathan Rhys Meyers' performance. The cast of children often steals the limelight, but with supporting cast members such as Chow Yun-Fat, Radha Mitchell and Michelle Yeoh as an opium merchant the story never lacks color and character. The look of the film is dark, but the message of this story is full of light. Here is a bit of Chinese history we should all know! Grady Harp, January 09
The cast is excellent with very good performances by Michelle Yeoh, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat & Jonathan Rhys Meyers. An evocative musical score and some gorgeous cinematography of the wilds of Tibet combine to make this a treat to behold.
During the first 25 minutes or so of the story, it appears that the film will be an action thriller, but the "heart" of the story reveals the transformative power of self-sacrifice & caring in a hostile political and physical environment. It is an amazing story.