The Children of Huang Shi

The Children of Huang Shi

On DVD: 
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Running Time: 
125 minutes

This based-on-a-true-event movie has a great story. I had never heard of George Hogg and his accomplishments during the Japanese invasion and occupation of China. In the midst of many films depicting Nazi Germany, The Children of Huang Shi can remind us of another group of war victims and a protagonist who made a difference.


In 1937 George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a British journalist, manages to sneak into Nanjing, and there he witnesses a mass execution of Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers, which later became known as the Nanjing Massacre. He is later captured by the Japanese and rescued by “Jack” Chen (Chow Yun-Fat), a Communist resistance fighter. By suggestion of Red Cross nurse Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell), he arrives at Huang Shi where he finds hopeless orphans. 


Unfortunately, you won’t see Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh all the time. However, their roles are definitely significant. Yun-Fat’s “Jack” adds more humanity into the story. Yeoh’s sincere portrayal of Mrs. Wang, who is a strong and somewhat lonely business woman, gives many clues about the impact of war to the audience, such as corruption and opium issues. I love the scene where Mrs. Wang gives Hogg a book – The Silk Road.


The cinematography captures both the sad destructed villages and the beautiful landscapes of rural China including the Gobi Desert. The tensions between the Communist and Nationalist Chinese, and the details of the terror that the Imperial Japanese Army has brought to China are only briefly explained. As it should be, the children play big roles. Their innocence, skepticism and affections to Mr. Hogg are a reminder to all of us about what is lost in the ugly war.


All the essential ingredients seem to be in this film – inspirational true story, historical importance, authentic film locations, international production team (a collaboration of Australia, China and Germany) and big named actors. So why does the movie fail to be an “A” grade?


While his role in the Showtime series “The Tudors” fits perfectly and his efforts to learn and speak Chinese and Japanese in this movie are commendable, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ performance as George Hogg is somewhat unconvincing. For instance, his hair is often perfect throughout the film, and it is hard to ignore his healthy looks when the character goes through the horrible living conditions and the harsh journey from Huang Shi to Shandan. The living survivors’ brief testimonies at the closing credits shall not be missed, but their descriptions of Mr. Hogg unfortunately do not make me picture Jonathan Rhys Meyers.


The movie could have been made better if they had kept focused on the relationship between Hogg and the children, not between Hogg and Pearson. Nevertheless, the overall story is amazing, and despite my dissatisfaction with Meyers’ acting, “The Children of Huang Shi” is a movie to remind us of the remarkable man George Hogg, his life and legacy.

Review by Pat Trabi