Drama R Running time: 2:05
IMDB rating: 7.1 Aspect: Wide; Languages: English; Subtitles: English, Spanish; Audio: DD 5.1
The Children of Huang Shi is a powerful, inspiring film about a real-life, outsider hero who emerged from Japan's catastrophic invasion of China in 1937. A British journalist, George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) sneaks into Nanjing at the height of Japan's destruction of that cosmopolitan city. Rescued from certain death by a suave rebel named Chen Hansheng (Chow Yun-Fat), Hogg goes deep into China's countryside in search of another front to the war. Instead of furthering his career, however, Hogg is talked into taking control of a destitute orphanage occupied by starving, lice-ridden, half-savage boys. A roving nurse, Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell), keeps Hogg focused on his task, provides him with medical supplies, and ultimately becomes his lover. But the former reporter has to figure many things out on his own, including how to inspire the boys to help fend for themselves. With the Japanese closing in on the orphanage and the Chinese looking at the boys as likely soldiers, Hogg, Pearson, and Hansheng lead the kids on an extraordinarily strenuous, 700-mile hike to Marco Polo's so-called Silk Road, leading to the Gobi Desert. The second half of The Children of Huang Shi is taken up by this sometimes deadly labor, and director Roger Spottiswoode balances the dreariness of it with knockout images of mountains and eerie, desert vistas. The multi-national cast is the best thing about the film, which avoids canonizing the saintly Hogg by not ignoring his sins of pride (he refers to the kids as "my boys" to the wrong Chinese authority, and pays the price) and jealousy. Chow's jaunty persona adds an essential swagger to this Schindler's List-like story, but it's Mitchell's gritty, soul-weary performance that really grabs one's attention.