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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI (2008)

Roger Spottiswoode’s fact-inspired biopic about George Hogg, a British journalist who found himself making an unlikely switch from war correspondent to nanny in Japan-occupied China, is good, but not good enough. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Malcolm McDowell’s personal Dorian Gray portrait) is very likable, but he can’t quite make sense of Hogg, a veritable Swiss-army knife of a person, with a ready-to-go blade for every situation. Caught by the Japanese, then rescued by the Chinese resistance, he’s dumped at a boy’s orphanage where he has to prove his worth before leading them on an epic march to safety in the East. Spottiswoode gets trapped by a storyline that morphs from EMPIRE OF THE SUN/’87 to THE INN OF SIXTH HAPPINESS/’58, plus a script that’s over-loaded with story beats & uplift. And he can’t keep a contemporary gloss off his cast, especially the boys & Radha Mitchell who’s the local doctor & love interest. Michelle Yeoh is fine in a glorified supporting role, and Chow Yun Fat is even better playing a dashing Communist fighter with a swagger worthy of Rhett Butler. If only the film, which is often thrilling to look at and certainly filled with good intentions, didn’t feel so manipulated. Still, it deserved more of an audience than it got. Try it out with your older school kids. And stick around for the credits to meet some of the real-life survivors of the tale. Very touching stuff. NOTE: Be careful to set the subtitles on the second English Language setting which only comes on for the Japanese & Mandarin dialogue. (Or is it Cantonese? My asian languages are so rusty.)

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