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aka The Children of Huang Shi (China)

  Publicity Stills of "Escape From Huang Shi"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Genre: Drama
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Matt Walker, Guang Li, Ping Su, Anastasia Kolpakova, Imai Hideaki
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: PG (Some Disturbing Scenes)

Official Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/thechildrenofhuangshi/

Opening Day: 10 April 2008


ESCAPE FROM HUANG SHI is a US$40 million Australia-China-Germany joint production, a World War 2 movie inspired by a true story. It starts with an Associated Press reporter, George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), sneaks into Nanking, the Chinese capital city, and witnesses the killing carried out by the Japanese troops. He is then captured by the Japanese and is later rescued by Jack Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) a guerilla leader. George is arranged to stay at an orphanage, where he becomes the guardian of over 60 psychologically shattered war orphans, with help from an Australian nurse Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell) and a wealthy widow Mrs. Wang (Michelle Yeoh). To protect the children from the advancing Japanese and conscription from the Chinese authority, George, Jack, Lee and the children start marching toward the snowy mountains and endless desert.

Movie Review:

After finishing his duties fighting pirates as Captain Sao Feng in Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Chow Yun Fat takes on new responsibilities a guerilla leader. Before Michelle Yeoh fights it out with Jet Li in The Mummy 3, she takes some time off as a wealthy widow. Quite a respectable cast, if you ask us. That’s not all, because joining the two Asian superstars in this historical epic are Jonathan Rhys Meyers, fresh from romanticizing Kerri Russell in August Rush; and Radha Mitchell, tired out after fighting off monster reptiles with Michael Vartan in Rogue Crocodile.

So many familiar faces here to watch out for, yet so easy to forget that such a potentially good movie shouldn’t be relying on its stars.

Inspired by true events, the story’s protagonist is a young British journalist George Hogg (a very earnest Rhys Meyers) who leads a group of orphans to safety amidst the harsh nature conditions. He gets help in the forms of a courageous Australian nurse (a very gung-ho Mitchell), a Chinese partisan leader (Chow) and an aristocrat (Yeoh) who contributes to his mission to save this group of orphaned children during the Japanese occupation of China.

The plot makes for great material, especially if it involves grand sweeping sceneries of the Chinese mountainous and desert regions. These you are going to get – the magnificently majestic visuals of China and the impressively splendid shots of the picturesque landscapes. It almost makes for a brilliant tourism video for the Chinese government.

What you are not going to get, however, is an engaging story to sit through the movie’s 114-minute runtime. You see Rhys Meyers going about trying to fit into the local community, spouting Mandarin and having locals miraculously understanding every word he says. We would have no idea if not for the subtitles. Joining him in speaking undecipherable Mandarin is Mitchell, whose blend characterization makes her forgettable no matter how much effort we can see the actress putting in. Then we have the pride and honour of Asian film – Chow and Yeoh. Despite the two veteran actors’ intentions to play their characters as authentically as possible, you can’t help but notice how their performances seem somewhat showy. On the other hand, it is lesser-known cast playing the supporting characters more tolerable.

Director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies, Stop! Or My Mum Will Shoot) can also look to his writers Jane Hawksley and James MacManus’ screenplay to understand why the movie will fail to engage audiences. Tackily predictable lines, flimsily uninteresting character developments and stereotypically bland depictions make this multi-national joint production just eye candy for those who dream of stepping foot into China for a sightseeing trip one day.

A pity this production is, because storylines exploring themes of love, responsibility and courage are aplenty throughout. The human triumph against diversities and difficulties always make for great drama, but in this case, what we get are miscast characters who read their scripted lines against the glorious backdrop of beautiful mountains and deserts.

Movie Rating:

(The visuals are fabulous, but it’s a pity that the rest of the movie isn’t)

Review by John Li


. Nanking (2007)

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