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The Children of Huang Shi (2008)

Action & Adventure and Art House & International movie directed by Roger Spottiswoode

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An odd one but interesting nonetheless!

  • Jan 15, 2011

Set in Shanghai in end 1937, this movie is a prelude to World War II. The beginning of a horror many cannot identified with in our times. It reminds me of The Killing Field and one of the scenes actually is a déjà vu; this time, not from a dream but from my past trip to Cambodia. At a high school where masses of people were being tortured and killed. One particular opening scene was that. Masses of people were shot in the compound at the front of some building. The English reporter witnessed it and shot some pictures of it. With that, two words came to mind… War Movie! The first few scenes also reminded me of The English Patient (for some reasons).
Chow Yun Fatt is the main attraction here, so I thought. But this movie is not your ordinary war movie. After the first 20 mins or so, the movie changed pace. It slowed down tremendously. The reporter (actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) was directed to the country side (a place known as Huang Shi) where he got to know some local Chinese kids (who were all orphaned during the war and more or less have a story of their own). There, he taught them the western way. The movie switches between English & Chinese language for awhile. For me, though I’m proficient in both languages and don’t need the subtitle, it is still awkward to hear the foreigners speak Mandarin. For most part, it’s hard to make out what they are saying. Naturally, there was no trouble hearing them in English! It is just weird to hear both languages within the same movie. And then there is Michelle Yeoh, dressed in Chinese traditional robe (cheongsam) but speaking English the American way. It is just SO odd!!! And then it occurred to me, hey, an Asian face doesn’t make her a Chinese! She’s a lot more western than Chinese… her spoken language, the way she carried herself, every posture shouted Western & nothing Chinese at all! {That's a lousy casting! Sometimes, less is more...}
So, amidst all that oddities, I continued this movie which tried to be Chinese but is actually English… it may be made in China but it is not made by China nor is it made for China. It is also made for the English audience, imho. My suspicion is that this movie is directed either by British or American director. True enough, upon checking it online, it is! The director is none other than Roger Spottiswoode who is Canadian & had directed movies like Tomorrow Never Dies, Under Fire & The 6th Day.

With that, I decided to post this review in the Movie Hype community rather than ASIANatomy community. Clearly, it is a western movie. For some 90+% of air time, the main spoken language is English. It is not a Chinese movie but more an "impostor". Calling that is a bit harsh but if you're a Chinese audience, nothing in this movie is typically "Chinese". Dressing in Cheongsam doesn't make one a Chinese either. I do feel they should just get a local to act the part of Michelle Yeoh. That's a waste of talent when she's not even having a crucial role here! Plus, her role doesn't add to the movie, instead, it has the opposite effect!

What is clearly commendable is the director's spotlight on the aftermath or psychological effects of war on children. The mood is right and the cinematography is great. What is obviously not so great is Chow Yun Fatt and Michelle Yeoh's castings (yep, I'm harping on it BIG TIME, LOL). There is no value-added there. I suppose for most Asian audiences they might not have picked up this film had it been just the two main actors (one of which is Irish while the other is Australian). Nonetheless, the movie managed to capture the audience's attention with the less famous castings. In fact, the supporting roles did exceptionally well (all rounds) which actually make this a highly watchable movie. I don't think I had actually enjoyed war movies that much. Again, in some ways, their escapes also reminded me of the ending of The Sound of Music!

Then again, somewhere along the movie, 7 years in Tibet also came to mind :-) It is highly interesting for me to find so many western movies flashing across my mind when watching this movie and yet none Asian movie came to mind! Highly unusual but understandable nonetheless. Well, perhaps you'll see bits and pieces of other films in this one too. In any case, it is a story packed with different angles and perspective. I understand it to be a joint production between Hollywood & the Chinese film industry. In my opinion, that's a successful marriage! Highly unexpected but pleasantly surprised! :-)

Caption Caption Caption Caption Cheers to those who made a difference! Cheers to those who made a difference! Cheers to those who made a difference!

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January 17, 2011
January 15, 2011
Ahh....you fnally saw one before I did. I bought a copy of this some months ago, but it was a very bad copy and I never finished the film. I need to see this pronto! Thanks, Sharrie!
January 15, 2011
U're welcome... I find it funny that those who acted like Japs look like Japs and the Chinese look like Chinese, other than Chow Yun Fatt & Michelle Yeoh! They look so out of place, haha...
More The Children of Huang Shi (200... reviews
review by . January 23, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI is a long (greater than two hours) epic tale that happens to be a true story of an extraordinary hero's life and gift to humanity during World War II. If as a film the telling of this story is a bit shaky in spots, it is probably due to the episodic series of events that happened very quickly and under existing conditions of profound stress. Yet despite the occasional misfires in production this remains a bit of history we all should know.     George …
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Sharrie ()
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I'm a traveler at heart & have been nicknamed Travel Queen by friends & colleagues alike. Traveling has been my life passion for the last decade or so. As we enter a new decade, I'm excited … more
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The Children of Huang Shiis 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 ...

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Director: Roger Spottiswoode
DVD Release Date: January 20, 2009
Runtime: 125 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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