Rated: R for some disturbing and violent content Reviewed by: Jim Release date: June 13, 2008 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
This biodrama from Roger Spottiswoode (The 6th Day) starts out with much promise, but ultimately flattens out to leave audiences unattached to an important historical event.
The Children of Huang Shi uses the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s as its backdrop, yet the stilted story never really comes to fruition.
The opening reel does have a tense sequence involving a British reporter (Jonathan Rhys Meyers of August Rush) and a colleague (David Wenham of The Lord of the Rings), but seems never to gain any vitality after that.
The pillaged land, in and around Nanjing, is where the journalist rescues some 60 orphans. He gets assistance from a comely nurse (Radha Mitchell of Feast of Love and Pitch Black), as well as a partisan rebel (a goateed Chow Yun-Fat).
Spottiswoode works well with his gifted lenser, Zhao Xiaoding, to accentuate the desert and snow-covered environment in the high aspect ratio format.
Yet, one can't help feeling that this melodrama is too dramatically barren as Rhys-Meyers and Mitchell don't light up on screen. And, it's clear that Yun-Fat isn't in his ideal element with uncharacteristic sporadic appearances, as well as the appealing Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) as a fortuitous opium proprietor.
There is a nice epilogue reminiscient of Schindler's List that still doesn't do cinematic justice to this ravaged youth.
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