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THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

December 20, 2008 by  



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A film that shows one man’s courageous drive to save orphans during one of the worst tragedies in world history (Nanjing Massacres, 1937-1938) and what they would do to survive and get to safety no matter the risk and obstacles they face.  Featuring beautiful cinematography, tragedy but through death and despair, a person who would risk his life for many to live.  A heroic and endearing film!

© Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

TITLE: THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI

MOVIE RELEASE DATE: 2008

DURATION: 125 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: NTSC, Region 1, 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English 5.1, English and Spanish (Castilian) subtitles

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (For Some Disturbing and Violent Content)

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

Screenplay by James MacManus, Jane Hawksley

Produced by Arthur Cohn, Jonathan Shteinman, Martin Hagemann, Peter Loehr, Wieland Schulz-Keil

Director of Photography: Xiaoding Zhao

Starring:

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as George Hogg

Radha Mitchell as Lea Pearson

Chow Yun-Fat as Chen Hansheng

Michelle Yeoh as Mrs. Wang

Guang Li as Shi-Kai

Experience the true story of British journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who snuck across enemy lines in 1937 to expose the Japanese occupation of China.  After capture and injury, a Chinese resistance leader, Chen (Chow Yun Fat), had to rescue and send him to hide in a remote orphanage.  Now in this foreign land of lost children, far away from the front lines, he’s found more stories than he could have ever dreamed.  From his true love of an Australian nurse (Radha Mitchell), Hogg discovers a rare courage and the true pleasures of life in the unlikely sanctum of Huang Shi.

When the film “THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI” was announced and was in production, many were happy that a major film would cover one of the worst massacres in history and remains controversial to this day.

In 1937-1938, Japanese invaded China (which was having it’s own civil war) and in a city known as Nanjing (the capital city of the Republic of China), Japanese slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians (Men, women, children and babies).  From torture to soldiers that had their fun with the civilians by raping, burning, decapitating them and literally mass graves while soldiers posed with the dead bodies with a smile.  Also, what many people don’t know was that these people were used as lab rats by the Imperial Japanese army for biological and bacterial research.

It’s a part of history that to this day, many fight to let people know of what happened in China and in Nanjing.  For the Japanese, they acknowledge parts of what happened but blame it on wartime and disagree with the numbers of how many were killed.  It is estimated that 200,000 to 350,000 people were massacred.

“THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI” stars actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers as “George Hogg”.  An adventurer who traveled the world including Japan but in China wanted to write a story and taking photos of what was going on in Nanjing for the Associated Press about rumors of atrocities in Nanjing.  So,  George manages to convince a volunteer of the Red Cross to let him and his friend go to Nanjing for him.

Unfortunately, what he discovers was mass destruction but what he witnessed while typing his story was the Japanese army taking the civilians and slaughtering them.  After taking photos of the atrocities, he eventually is caught by the Japanese army and is sentenced to death.  While he is about to be beheaded, he is rescued in time by Chen Hansheng (Chow Yun Fat), a communist resistance leader who helps resistance armies throughout China and eventually, save each other and is nursed Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell) from the Red Cross.

Chen tells Hogg to go to a location and learn Chinese or else, he will not be able to survive in China since there is no way to get him out of the area.   So, he is sent to an area which have about 60 orphans that are dirty, have lice and really, no education, no parents, nothing.  To make matters worse, the orphans don’t believe in him and thus Hogg must do what he can to win these children.

And so, while working in the orphanage, he slowly starts to win their trust, thankfully with the help of Lea and also the rich Mrs. Wang (Michelle Yeoh) who provides the orphanage with money and the materials they need.  Spending years in the orphanage, Hogg is able to turn things around.  Cleaning up the kids, helping them learn some English but learning Chinese and trying to make life hospitable for them.  That is until they were told that the Japanese are coming to their area and thus, Hogg with the help of Pearson and Hansheng try to move all the children to a location hundreds of miles away on foot and under the threat of attack by Japanese bombers.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

The film features beautiful cinematography by Xiaoding Zhao (House of Flying Daggers) featuring beautiful landscapes in Shanghai, China.  When outdoors, the colors are vibrant and most of all, you see part of beauty but due to the war, you see destruction.  But with good locations, the locations lend to the enjoyment of the filming.  As for audio, there are certain scenes when the Japanese attack and blasts are heard everywhere on your speakers.  Nice loud booms.  But the film is mostly dialogue.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

The DVD features one special feature and trailers.  The special feature is “The Challenge of Huang Shi – A Behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film”.  The nearly 12-minute featurette showcases the challenge of trying to film in China and the Chinese not knowing what the foreigners are saying and vice versa.  Fortunately, there were translators on the set but the actors talk about the challenges due to the language barrier.  But also the acknowledgement of why this film was important and how there really isn’t any films on the Nanjing massacre.

Although this film does not focus on the massacre but mainly on the character of George Hogg and the orphans and the people that help him, It was good to see director Roger Spottiswoode cover that tragic time from the past and show how dangerous and tragic those years were.

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Many have wanted to see a big budget film about the Nanjing massacre but although the film does show the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers, the film does not focus on that.  The film focuses on adventurer George Hogg, the orphans he raises, teaches and helps bring to safety but also working with the the people who are willing to give him and the orphans a chance.

Now, there are some key differences on the real life of George Hogg versus the George Hogg featured in “The Children of Huang Shi”.  In real life, George Hogg was definitely instrumental in helping the children but he also had some help with a New Zealand communist Rewi Alley (who was a major part of the development of the school).  Alley was eliminated from the storyline.   And the ending featuring Hogg was much different of what happened in reality.  But the film is based on Hogg and it was great to see some of the children (there are four living survivors among the orphans that were saved by Hogg and Alley) at the end of the film talking about Hogg and how great of a person he was to them.

There were some changes for the film.  Lea Pearson is a nurse for the Red Cross who has a romantic relationship formerly with Chen Hansheng.  Many believe that Lea Pearson is an offshoot of real life nurse Kathleen Hall (in reality, who really helped Alley) and Chen Hansheng (who represents Nie Rongzhen, a Communist general which in real life, Hogg helped in guerrilla missions against the Japanese).  But of course, to keep the story simplified and most of all to give honor to Hogg’s life and what he was able to do for those orphans, that is the main focus and for that, the screenplay is written well in focusing on Hogg and his relationships as friend, teacher and guardian.

All actors did a fine job on the film and Jonathan Rhys Meyers did a good job on playing the character of George Hogg but for those wanting to watch the film that focuses more on the tragedy of Nanjing and want to watch about the plight of those trying to survive the massacres (those wanting something along the lines of a “Schindler’s List”, the film does feature a little bit about that but the main focus is about Hogg and his relationship with the orphans.  But in the end, it was a good film.

“THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI” definitely looks beautiful and the film overall is enjoyable and endearing.  It’s definitely good to know about the life of George Hogg and what he has done to save these orphans from danger but it was also great to see Chow Yung Fat and Michelle Yeoh reunited again since their roles in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

Overall, “THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI” is an endearing film featuring beautiful cinematography but also informing people of one of the most tragic periods in humanity.

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