Part love story, part epic travelogue, The Children of Huang Shi assembles its elements so neatly that it should have been called The Children of Feng Shui. A conventional, ham-fisted script and a miscast Jonathan Rhys-Meyers hamper an otherwise enjoyable film. Rhys-Meyers never manages to embody real-life English journalist George Hogg who, on assignment in China in 1938, became the unwitting paterfamilias to sixty abandoned orphan boys. Sticking closely to his reluctant hero arc, Hogg arrives in Japan-occupied Nanjing, camera in hand, to document the atrocities. Caught by Japanese soldiers and marched off for beheading, he’s saved by Chinese rebel leader “Jack” Chen (Chow Yun Fat, awkwardly chewing the English script). Hogg is wounded in the frantic escape, a wonderful turn of events since it leads him to self-taught nurse, Lee Pearson. Rhada Mitchell plays Pearson, and it’s a testament to her largely untapped abilities that, among this cosmopolitan cast (including the always elegant Michelle Yeoh), she’s the only actor to fully inhabit her role. Mitchell made a splash ten years back with High Art and it’s a pity that Hollywood hasn’t had much use for her since. She’s radiant. It’s Pearson who sets Hogg off on his journey, dropping him unexpectedly at the orphanage, knowing, and not caring, that he’ll refuse the sudden responsibility. And refuse it he (sort of) does; he is, after all, a reluctant hero. He soon comes around, of course, in time winning the calcified hearts of even the most obdurate orphans – and finding his own in the process.
Opens May 23