The Children of Huang Shi is based on a true story of a British journalist, George Hogg (Rhys-Meyers), who sneaks into China under the guise of a Red Cross worker during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938. There, he observes and photographs Japanese atrocities before being caught, comes perilously close to death by beheading and then is saved by a friendly Chinese Nationalist (Chow Yun-Fat). All this action happens in the first 20 minutes of the film. Do try and keep up, won't you? The rest is devoted to Hogg's subsequent caretaking efforts at an orphanage to which he is sent to recover, buried deep in the Chinese countryside, where traumatised young boys live. He soon overcomes their hostility and has them tending sunflowers and learning to say "cat" and "dog" in English classes. You get the sense throughout that the director Roger Spottiswoode was aiming for an epic. The Pianist meets Seven Years in Tibet, maybe. True, there are several cracking shots as Hogg leads the boys along the Marco Polo Silk Road to escape the advancing Japanese. But the film is let down by the wooden acting of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and his nurse love interest, Lee Pearsons (Radha Mitchell). A worthy shot at a good story, but you are left with the feeling that it could have been much more impressive.
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