• Children of Huang Shi, The (Twilight Time Releasing) Blu-Ray Review

    Released By: Twilight Time
    Released On: July 17, 2018.
    Director: Roger Spottiswoode
    Cast: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Guang Li, Ji Lin, Matthew Walker
    Year: 2008
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    Children of Huang Shi - Movie Review:

    When the dust settled after World War II, it was a pretty safe bet that Adolf Hitler was the most evil dude on the face of the planet, and that civilization would never again see the carnage and destruction that his soldiers carried out. Secretly, there had to be some folks breathing a sigh of relief as Nazi atrocities too centre stage in the public view; such as the Imperial Japanese Army, who, less than ten years prior to the end of the war, committed unspeakable acts against the Chinese when they captured the capital city of Nanjing.

    It was Nanjing (more commonly known later as Nanking) that eager reporters attempted to access, and Andy Fisher (Matthew Walker) figures that he's got a way to get past the Japanese Army roadblocks when he grabs his buddy's Red Cross credentials. Not content to wander into the potentially deadly fray alone, he enlists the help of reluctant fellow journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), and the two set off for the city in a cargo truck carrying bandages and medicine. Hogg manages to wander rather freely about the ruined city, taking pictures of the poverty and homelessness, but catches a real journalistic break when he stumbles upon a mass execution in a public square. Unfortunately, he's captured almost immediately after, and his excuses fall upon deaf Japanese ears once they develop the film in his camera.

    Obviously not pleased to have a reporter sharing the details of their horrible deeds, Hogg is to be beheaded, a fate he's rescued from by resistance fighter Jack Cheng (Chow Yun-Fat). Good luck doesn't extend to Hogg's friend, Andy Fisher, however, who is killed by the Japanese as Hogg secretly watches, and the shock prompts Jack to send him up to an orphanage to rest up and learn to speak Chinese more effectively. This therapy is seconded by Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell), another health worker, and Hogg heads into a most unrestful situation; a school run by boys who have no love for interlopers.

    Of course, after taking a savage pounding from the lads, Hogg turns things around and, for the most part, gains their trust. Before long, he's teaching them English while they teach him Chinese, and he's doing his part to address the wartime issues around the orphanage, like the maggot-infested bits of rice the kids are expected to eat. A visit with an affluent woman who also wheels and deals in opium and fine silks (Michelle Yeoh) procures seeds needed to start a garden, and before long, the orphanage is thriving; or at least, thriving as much as an orphanage can during a war. It's this war that forces Hogg's hand, however, when the Chinese army states their intention to conscript the boys into active service rather than have them under the tutelage of a foreigner, and the journalist makes the decision to undertake a massive trek with the boys to the faraway Gobi desert.

    Despite the delicate subject matter, or maybe because of it, The Children of Huang Shi never really finds it's footing; almost as if the film makers didn't know how to handle such material. Huang Shi veers from an international espionage feel to explosive action to inspirational feel-good flick with no warning, and with mixed results. These changes in tone may have had the chance to switch the pace up and take the pressure off of the two-plus hour runtime, but instead, contribute confusion to the viewing experience and prevent the watcher from being fully invested.

    The weakest link, however, is the casting of the lead role; Jonathan Rhys-Meyers doesn't have the acting chops in this film to do the material any justice, or to stand next to powerhouses like Chow Yun-Fat or Michelle Yeoh. Unfortunately, being featured in almost every scene in the film does The Children of Huang Shi no favours at all, and even the attention to detail in wardrobe and set design, not to mention standout performances from established actors, can render the film worth viewing.

    Children of Huang Shi - Blu-Ray Review:

    Twilight Time brings The Children of Huang Shi to blu-ray in a 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer that is a definite improvement over the previous DVD. Black levels are solid, detail is crisp, and the transfer shows no issues of compression or damage that I could see.

    Audio comes courtesy of a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that keeps dialogue front and centre and explodes appropriately during the action scenes, utilizing the sub and surrounds. No distortion or other audio abnormalities were evident. A DTS-HD stereo track is also available and packs plenty of punch, but is obviously lacking in immersion when the action kicks in. English subs and the usual Twilight Time Isolated Score track are also on hand.

    The Challenge of Huang Shi (11:48, SD) is a brief making-of that features Director Roger Spottiswoode as well as Rhys-Meyers and Radha Mitchell discussing the origin of the film among other things.

    A Trailer for the film, Twilight Time's Interactive Catalogue, and an essay by Julie Kirgo in the form of liner notes rounds out the supplements.

    Children of Huang Shi - The Final Word:

    Close; but no cigar. The casting of Rhys-Meyers among the other heavy hitters in Children of Huang Shi proves to be a poor decision that cripples the film. Still, for those interested in seeing it, the Twilight Time blu-ray offers a solid medium.

    Click on the images below for full sized Children of Huang Shi Blu-ray screen caps!