The Children of Huang Shi (2008)
Critic Consensus: This beautifully photographed but dramatically flat war drama recounts an important chapter in history with little cinematic freshness.
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"The Children of Huang Shi" starts in 1937 Shanghai as journalist George Hogg(Jonathan Rhys Meyers) tricks his way into the war zone of Nanjing by pretending to be an ambulance driver. While there, he witnesses a civilian massacre, is captured by the Japanese and is almost beheaded before being rescued at the last second by Communist insurgents, led by Chen Hansheng(Chow Yun-Fat). Hogg's two compatriots are not so lucky and Chen and Hogg have another tight escape before Chen spirits Hogg away to an orphanage for safekeeping. And again, Hogg needs rescuing, this time from a beatdown by the kids, by Lee Pearson(Radha Mitchell), an expatriate nurse who has been in country for five years and the closest thing to a doctor for miles around. Based on a true story, "The Children of Huang Shi" is an enticing and beautifully photographed epic that is not without its share of flaws. There are pacing issues and it could have been longer but I like how it ends. On the plus side, the film goes beyond the old fashioned trappings with little complexities, especially with the children being more troubled than cute. The complicated political realities of the time are captured perfectly with the Nationalists and the Communists both fighting the Japanese but can never overcome their political differences to totally trust each other. However, Chen risks his life to rescue trapped Nationalist soldiers at one point. "The Children of Huang Shi" is not a war movie about combat, but about knowing when to fight and choose your battles, so it is okay to escape in one piece. There is no reason to be heroic if you are dead. Even then, any survivors will remain forever changed by the experience and probably not for the better. Chen was an engineer and now he blows up buildings to ensure the Japanese do not recover valuable information.(At least, somebody enjoys their job.) Along the way, Hogg learns that the best way to conquer the world is through kindness.
This film based on a true events of an English reporter who saved Chinese orphan boys from the Japanese invasion in the 1930s is meaning of love, accountability and bravery. That also happened the same story of escaping and trekking over the mountains in 1958's The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman as English servant girl Gladys Aylward.
It has a great backstory and the makings of an epic film, but somehow fell short. The acting felt forced and abrupt, but there were glimpses of what it could have been.
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