The Children of Huang Shi

children-of-huang-shiThe Children of Huang Shi recounts the true story of a British journalist’s rescue of dozens of Chinese orphans in the face of the advancing Japanese.

The British reporter George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Myers) has been sent to China to report on the 1930s war involving the Japanese invaders and the Nationalist and Communist Chinese. Reckless and inexperienced, he takes hundreds of covert photos of the atrocities for newspapers back home, including a massacre of Chinese civilians. However, the Japanese soon twig that he is not the aid worker he said he was and capture him, along with all of his photos.

Hogg finds himself on the brink of death when he is rescued by the Chinese communist guerrilla Chen Hansheng (Chow Yun-Fat). A second last-minute rescue by Chen’s friend and erstwhile lover, American nurse Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell), follows, and Hogg is whisked off to the relative safety of a children’s orphanage in Huang Shi.

Hogg has no teacher training and speaks scant Mandarin, but that doesn’t stop Lee putting him in charge of 60 children, whom he is told he must feed, clothe and educate. He strikes up a friendship with an enterprising local widow (Michelle Yeoh) who provides him with rice and grain.

Though set against background of highly politicised war, this is an apolitical film which explores the way in which one man transformed the lives of dozens of children. The orphanage scenes are particularly touching, as Hogg gives his whole self to the children’s cause – including an embarrassing scene in which he demonstrates the merits of flea powder. Yet the film never attempts to plumb the depths of Hogg’s character or motivations. He is simply presented as a kind and brave hero, a ray of light in the midst of a dark and dirty war.

Eventually the orphanage is shut down by the authorities, and Hogg and his children make an exhausting 500 mile trek across the Gobi desert in search of refuge. Zhao Xiaoding’s camerawork is phenomenal as he pictures the troop of children marching across the spectacular vistas of Northern China.

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