The Children of Huang Shi Roger Spottiswoode

With the majority of the events of interest happening off screen and a stilted approach to epic storytelling that cuts away from moments of humanity and urgency to a disingenuous romance, The Children of Huang Shi is a story of significance ripe with opportunity that's presented with occasional moments of clarity but mostly a generalized blandness. Individual elements of the film are successful, with both Meyers and Mitchell delivering nuanced performances, and a consistent overall aesthetic care of some gorgeous cinematography and thoughtful art direction, but the sum of these parts adds up only to mediocrity. This is only exacerbated when the final credits come up and reveal interviews with some of the real children of Huang Shi, making it all too obvious that a documentary approach to this tale of refuge and hope in a time of war might have been more successful. Based on a true story, Huang Shi follows George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a young British journalist who poses as an aid worker in 1937 China in order to gain access to Nanjing, an area restricted by the Japanese. After stumbling upon a mass execution, he winds up a target until Chen Hensheng (Chow Yun-Fat), a communist resistance explosives expert, rescues him. Taking refuge at a dilapidated orphanage for boys, Hogg finds purpose in helping those without hope, alongside a deeply empathic Australian nurse (Radha Mitchell), who has some secrets of her own. A secondary story involving Michelle Yeoh as an opium dealer proves intriguing but has too little screen time to serve much of a point alongside the main narrative. Included with the DVD is a 12-minute "making of" featurette that explores the nature of working on a project with people who speak different languages, along with discussions of characterizations. (Sony)