Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Children of Huang Shi

Roger Spottiswoode, Australia, 2008 (8.8*)
Mostly in English, with some Mandarin and Japanese.
Due to high production value and exotic locations in China, director Spottiswoode has put together a modern war epic that recalls some of the biggest of the past. This is the story of British journalist George Hogg in China in 1937, who sneaks into the war zone by posing as a Red Cross worker delivering supplies. Caught by the Japanese shooting photos of their atrocities in Nanking, he is saved from beheading by a local Communist guerrila leader, an engineer educated in the U.S. named Jack Chen, played by Chow Yun-Fat. He has the film's best quote: "I'm now using my skills to blow things up; I find it somewhat more rewarding."

He is taken to a boys' orphanage for safety, where he becomes a teacher, helping a volunteer and war hardened Australian nurse, Rahda Mitchell (Finding Neverland, Miranda and Miranda) take care of the sixty boys. Michelle Yeoh is perfect as a local trader and drug dealer who also helps Hogg, providing seed for food and morphine ("You know what they say about opium - you still feel the pain but it no longer hurts"). Caught in the middle of the invasion, and with Jack's advice and help, they decide to move the boys overland to a location out of harm's way, on the edge of the Gobi desert.

This film encompasses a wide scope and scale, turning the war into a major adventure story. While I found lead actor Jonathan Rhys-Myers (The Tudors) a bit less than subtle, I was inspired enough by the story of Hogg to find this film to be among the best war biographies, ranking somewhat below Lawrence of Arabia, but above The English Patient.

This is similar to the story recounted in Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), which was the story of nurse Gladys Aylward, who also moved some orphans due to the war. Viewers who enjoyed those films should find this one to be just as well made but not as long. Look for a visual reference to The Last Emperor as well. Filmed in China and Australia.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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