Sony Pictures Classic
Set in the late 1930s, Roger Spottiswoode's “The Children of Huang Shi” tells the adventurous story of a journalist who leads an orphanage of Chinese boys to safety from Japanese invaders.
Unfortunately, despite unique socio-political circumstances, the movie is as predictable and tame as other fact-based inspirational sagas, this one based on the biography of British journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
Hogg's journey begins in Shanghai (another boilerplate template), when the white reporter, then 23, charms a relief worker to let him drive into the ruins of Nanking with supplies and two other colleagues. Once there, he photographs Japanese troops conducting massacres. Captured by the Japanese, Hogg is saved from execution by partisans led by “Jack” Chen (Chow Yan Fat); the Japanese shoot his two friends.
Later on, after escaping into a river, he meets in a hospital an American nurse, Lee Pierson (Radha Mitchell), a kind woman who helps the ailing Hogg recover at a schoolhouse away from the fighting. The place is populated by boys whose parents have been massacred by the Japanese. Gradually, despite initial anger and hostility, he warms his way with the boys through ball playing and English classes.
The whole production is marked by the old-fashioned, humanist touch of producer Arthur Cohn. Lacking edge, the scenario, by James McManus and Jayne Hawkesly, is too routine, resembling in the weak moments a solemn TV Movie of the Week. Era and its atrocities have been better handled by a series of recent documentaries.
Helming by the British filmmaker Roger Spottiswoode, who had previously directed better action-adventures, such as “Under Fire” and “Shoot to Kill,” is disappointingly impersonal.