World War II films focusing on the conflict in Europe are a dime a dozen, even this many years later. But it’s only recently — or so it seems — that movies have focused on the other part of the war: the one being fought in Asia. In particular, there seems to be a subset that pays close attention to the assistance that foreigners provided to the Chinese as Japan invaded. The based on a true story The Children of Huang Shi, starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, is one of those films.
Set just as Japan is starting to invade China, before it was “technically” a war, Rhys-Meyers portrays George Hogg, an English journalist eager to get a story. When Hogg gets his story and, inadvertently, sees something he and the Japanese wish he hadn’t, he seeks refuge in an orphanage at the advice of a Chinese communist resistance fighter (Chow Yun-fat). At the orphanage Hogg fights for acceptance among the boys and works to keep them fed, healthy and, as the danger shows up on their doorstep, alive. Hogg finds allies in an American (Radha Mitchell) and a connected Chinese businesswoman dealing in seeds and opium (Michelle Yeoh).
There’s been much made about the factual inaccuracies of the film. Show me a based on a true story film that is completely truthful. What is of issue is the scripting and the delivery. The film tries so hard to work in so many different storylines that it can’t fully invest in any of them — even when the film clocks in at over two hours. Shot in beautiful landscapes, the film comes across a little too Hollywood with Hogg, naturally, the hero who gets everything. It’s all a little too easy and clean. What is moving, however, are the modern interviews with the now-grown orphans that Hogg raised. That’s something you can’t argue with.