Directed By: Roger Spottiswoode
Written By: Jane Hawksley, James MacManus
Starring: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh
Running Time: 125 min.
Rated R Some disturbing and violent conent
4 out of 5 stars
Rhys-Meyers (Bend It Like Beckham, August Rush) isn’t necessarily a great actor, but he gets the job done here, transitioning believably from angry idealist to self-sacrificing father figure. Radha Mitchell (Melinda and Melinda, Finding Neverland) does a great job as his foil, an intense figure with an air of mystery. It’s in the supporting roles that the film really shines: Chow Yun-Fat as a Communist party leader who acts as Hogg’s mentor, and Michelle Yeoh as a black market druggist.
Director Roger Spottiswoode, whose output has been spotty, to say the least (The Getaway, Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot), does an admirable job here, employing deeply expressive lighting and subtle edits that tug at the heartstrings. The Chinese landscape looks as beautiful as ever, making this film an interesting companion piece to Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol.
This is true in more ways than one, as Children of Huang Shi isn’t afraid to portray the ravages of war that Bodrov’s epic was, for the most part, happy to gloss over. Huang Shi reenacts the Rape of Nanking in disturbing detail, and doesn’t shy away from the psychological damage that such atrocities have wrought on its orphans. At the time that Huang Shi takes place, there are no less than three major groups fighting for control of China: the Japanese invaders, the Chinese government, and the Communist rebels. Officially, all three are quick to claim that they’re doing it all for the greater good, but the damage done to those who are caught in the middle proves that it’s all words.
Unfortunately, history belongs to those who kill. Every elementary-level history textbook in the world is bound to have some mention of the Chinese civil war and the Japanese invasion, but who’s going to remember those who stayed with the victims and did whatever good they could? I myself had never heard of Hogg until I saw this film, but I couldn’t be more thankful that it was made. Hogg’s self-sacrifice hasn’t changed the political face of the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it made all the difference to the sixty orphans he led to safety.
And self-sacrifice it certainly was. Hogg gave up his freedom, comfort, and career for these children that he barely even knew—and ultimately died for them. Huang Shi doesn’t beat the Christ-figure archetype terribly hard (truth be told, there are much bigger nods to Taoism and Buddhism here—suggesting that Spottiswoode is attempting to bridge perceived gaps between the religions of east and west), but there’s no denying that it’s there, and that its message is still relevant: The only way to gain your life is to give it up. The only way to find happiness is to seek the happiness of others.
Children of Huang Shi is an old story, with old questions to answer, but there’s no doubt that it needs to be heard—perhaps now more than ever. The Children of Huang Shi is currently playing at AMC Southroads.
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Luke Harrington currently resides in Tulsa and works in the aerospace industry–but, at any given moment, would probably rather be reviewing movies. In his spare time, he’s off playing blues piano and pretending to be Assistant Editor for MovieZeal.com.