The Children of Huang-Shi - Film Review

Posted on 01. Jun, 2008 by Administrator in Film/TV

By Todd Gilchrist 

The Children of Huang-Shi is a sentimental, almost painfully earnest historical epic that brings to light a dark story of the era that had gone on somewhat unnoticed since the end of WWII. It’s based on the true story of British journalist George Hogg who escorts a group of Chinese orphans to safety during the war. Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, and Chow Yun-Fat, the film seems primed for eventual awards-season contention, but unfortunately falls flat under the weight of its period-drama conventions and three performances that epitomize paycheck joylessness.

Rhys Meyers plays Hogg, an intrepid reporter who infiltrates wartime China only to discover that many of the country’s atrocities – including mass murders of Chinese citizens by the Japanese – have gone thus far unreported. After being detained by Japanese soldiers, Hogg is rescued from execution by Hansheng “Jack” Chen (Chow) and sent to a remote schoolhouse, where Jack insists there is a great story for the reporter. Hogg soon discovers that he has unwittingly been enlisted to take care of a band of orphans who live at the school. With a little help from a self-taught nurse named Lee (Mitchell), he quickly grows to care for the children and eventually decides to take them on a hundred mile trek in order to rescue them from invading Japanese forces. 

Children of Huang-Shi is a second-tier wartime epic at best, on par with Attenborough’s In Love and War and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Enemy at the Gates in its sweeping, frivolous melodrama and featherweight impact; there’s even a trouble-making kid, and Hogg must eventually earn his begrudged respect. Bearing that most dubious of descriptions – “inspired by a true story” – its authenticity is deeply suspect, even when actual survivors appear in the end credits to give its basic details legitimacy. Mind you, no such thing as realism needs be applied to these movies in order for them to properly work, but when you have two writers more eager to demonstrate their fluency of screenplay conventions than fealty to historical accuracy, the end result (much like here) is a schmaltzy hodgepodge of wartime atrocities and inspirational teacher clichés. 

Despite some erratic tonal changes in sympathy, Rhys Meyers and Mitchell mostly abet themselves of the lackluster material without falling too easily into arch melodrama. But it’s Chow Yun-Fat who offers the film’s least consistent (or perhaps most consistently bad) performance, providing rote exposition in early scenes and then flaunting his character’s amorality that seems to be more out of boredom than personal investment when events turn for the worse. Meanwhile, director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) trots out the crane and lead-weight score and provides each moment with its predictable, requisite dramatic emphasis without necessarily convincing anyone that he’s actually capturing moments of real drama on camera. Overall, this film just might be a proper tribute to a true hero thanks to one man’s actual heroics, but as a hackneyed war movie / period epic / inspirational teacher tome, it’s probably best that Children of Huang-Shi – much less movies like it - does not offer audiences any more descendants any time soon.

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