"The Children of Huang Shi" is a dull dramatization of and ill-fitting testament to British journalist George Hogg's experiences in war torn China.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
It doesn't seem all that long ago that the documentary "Nanking" (which chronicled a harrowing chapter in Japan's occupation of China, circa 1937) was released and here, already, is its large-scale, real-life counterpart, a drama covering exceedingly similar events.
"The Children of Huang Shi" tells the true story of one George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an inexperienced British journalist who smuggled himself into the besieged city of Nanjing (with a j) to document first-hand the atrocities being handed down to its Chinese citizenry. Hogg is quickly rescued from inevitable execution at the hands of the Japanese imperialists by partisan resistance leader Chen Hansheng (Chow Yun-Fat) and sent to the northwest village of Huang Shi to convalesce before moving on to the front.
|THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI|
|Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode.|
Produced by: Arthur Cohn, Wieland Schulz-Keil.
Written by: Jane Hawksley, James MacManus.
Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh.
Cinematography: Xiaoding Zhao.
Edited by: Geoffrey Lamb.
Music by: David Hirschfelder.
Production design by: Kym Barrett, Wenyan Gao.
Art direction by: Kym Barrett, Wenyan Gao.
Costumes by: Kym Barrett, Wenyan Gao.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
Once there, Hogg (or "Pig" as his papers incorrectly identify him) becomes reluctant mentor to a babble of Chinese orphans while arousing the interest/ardor of Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell), an American nurse living and working in the region. Fortunately the fledgling writer can distinguish between durum wheat and red lentils and with Pearson's capable assistance, along with that of Hansheng, Hogg eventually leads some 60 children to safety along China's spectacular yet treacherous Silk Road.
The kids are all right but the flat romance between Hogg and Pearson isn't worthy of our attention. If anything it detracts from the true drama, one that has been seriously watered down by screenwriters Jane Hawksley and James MacManus and director Roger Spottiswoode (who, between you and me, seemed eminently more comfortable guiding the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, and Sylvester Stallone through films like "The 6th Day," "Air America," and "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot").|
While decently made and well intentioned (and other faint praises that serve to damn it further), "The Children of Huang Shi" is a sugar coated history lesson that plays like "The Sound of Music" without Rodgers and Hammerstein's hum-able show tunes (at least that film had songs, not to mention charm, staying power, and a few of my favorite things the best "'Huang Shi" has to offer up in that regard is a lonely goat herd).
| ||The kids are all right but the flat romance between Hogg and Pearson isn't worthy of our attention.|
Rhys Meyers comes across as too clean cut for the lead, Mitchell too pretty. Plus you've got the charismatic Chow Yun-Fat and the enigmatic Michelle Yeoh as Madame Wang to contend with. Er, could we get some ugly people here please! It's all too clean cut, in fact. Too sterile. Too nicey-nice. Too climb-every-mountainous. It's turgid and top-heavy. Worse still it's neither interesting nor engaging and that's a crime, given the subject matter.
For a closer, more harrowing look at how war takes its terrible toll on the innocent see the afore-mentioned "Nanking" (it's available on DVD). Alternatively, rent 2000's "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport," a fascinating account of the relocation of thousands of Jewish children from Germany into foster homes prior to the start of World War II. And, of course, there's always Robert Wise's OscarĘ winner (with Julie Andrews' indomitable governess Maria) if you're in the mood for something a tad lighter.|
"'Huang Shi"'s children, alas, deserve better care.
|JUNE 2, 2008|
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