For all of
its gorgeous production values, The
Children of Huang Shi is held back by the stiff
performance of its leading man Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tutors). His
one-note, sort of upbeat, idealist portrayal of George Hogg, an English
journalist who led tens of children out of Huang Shi to safety, only
makes sense as the closing credits roll, and actual survivors of that
group essentially describe him as a jovial Jesus.
counterpart, an American nurse, played by Radha Mitchell does far
better with her material. This is not the Mitchell of Finding Neverland
or Melinda and Melinda.
There’s nothing refined or airbrushed about her; her
masculine body language and rectangular face are contrasted only by her
long, wavy, blonde locks. When she lets them down, anyway.
nicking the papers of a Red Cross employee to gain access to the front
lines of the unofficial war being fought between China and Japan in
1937, Hogg witnesses unutterable horrors, and nearly finds himself
dead. A communist leader (in the form of Chow Yun Fat) who likes to
blow things up, comes to Hogg’s aid and it is through him
that Hogg gets caught up in the world of the children of Huang Shi.
the unofficial war, the children are slow to embrace Hogg, the only
adult in their midst — save an elderly, quite funny cook.
Nevertheless, he becomes their teacher, far more invested in them then
he had been in the writing assignment that brought him there.
Though I was
watching a screener copy at home, I must say I was impressed with the Children of Huang Shi’s
graphics — particularly the airplanes rendered to lay fire
onto both buildings and unarmed peasants, merely trying to make their
way to safety. The use of CGI is spare, an excellent decision as its
coldness is a stark contrast to the warm landscape of the Chinese
countryside, with its pools of water and uncannily shaped mountains.
This is certainly a film you could take your more mature children to see (I’m thinking 12 or 13); there are some scenes of war violence, but nothing too graphic, and nothing too out of the blue, so your instincts should tell you when eyes need covering. The Children of Huang Shi does fall into that “power of the human spirit” category that actually can be done right sometimes. You’d think that spirit is Hogg’s, but actually I would say the powerful spirits reside in the children, who, even after watching family members die, find it in themselves to keep on truckin’, each using their skills to keep their little commune-school running. I think they might be the best actors in the film, too. One child hangs his head and says more with his gesture than almost all of Rhys Meyer’s line readings.