Escape from Huang Shi

Escape from Huang Shi, 2008

dir: Roger Spottiswoode

A lot of people will get disappointed with this movie if he or she thinks that this movie has a lot of “action” war scenes, or expects to see for the most part the horrible stuffs that the Japanese did to the Chinese in Nanking, or even to watch their idol Chow Yun Fat and/or Michelle Yeoh in action as they did in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Instead, they are treated to a dramatic bio-pic of English journalist, George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) whose heroic efforts saved a few dozens Chinese children from certain death if they are conscripted to fight the war. In fact, the original title of this movie is THE CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI but perhaps this title is too “soft” to market given the whole of the movie trailer and such is rather misleading to make believe that this is a war-action movie. So the word “ESCAPE” is more action oriented and less of a yawner.

The marketing campaign which is angled on the Asian market, also positioned Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh as if they are playing the lead but in fact, the movie is very little about them and focused on George Hogg and nurse Lee Pearson (Radha Michelle) instead. In fact, the story only focused only on 2-3 children among the 60 and thus shed little light on the children’s story. So at the end, it just felt like a movie to “idolise” Goerge Hogg, a tribute on big screen to this personality.

Ok, I have said what I wanted to say. Now, but is this a good movie?

The movie is set during World War II during the Japanese occupation of Nanking. A few scenes illustrated the hideous things that the Japanese have done there and there is an execution scene that is quite well done and conveys the fear of the people and atrocities committed. Jonathan Rhys Meyers did a fine job playing Hogg while Radha Michelle is also very fine playing Lee Pearson. Watching the mass execution scene, one cannot but feel the pain of the people but this is war time and in war time, many hideous things happens. The Japanese themselves got bombed by the Americans and suffered miserably. The Americans also massacred the Vietnamese in the My Lai incident and I don’t see how the Vietnamese have suffered any lesser than the Nankingites. Then the Americans had their twin towers taken down. And so on and so forth.

Hogg is a naive idealist (whose family are pacifists and their family had tea with Gandhi) and in a streak of good luck, was saved by Chen Hansheng (Chow Yun Fat) while in the brink of getting beheaded. He was then sent to Huang Shi where an orphan-school gives protection and food to some 50-60 children. In Huang Shi, he comes to terms with the situation there and began to improve the living conditions and lives of the children there. A sort of Garden of Eden was created by Hogg while Mrs. Wang (Michelle Yeoh) a businesswoman who supplied the orphan-school with things such as seed, medicine, a book that ultimately inspired the long-march etc. All these are threatened by the Nationalist army who eyes to conscript the boys for war. In an effort to save the children, he decided that he should take the children on a mini long march of 1,000km to another town where the children could be safe.

The acting, as I have said, is good and the war scenes, however little it has, is believable. Art direction and cinematography is also top class. So barring my comments on paragraphs one and two above, it is a rather good movie. Just don’t goddam pitch the movie to us as a war-action movie starring Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh and we will adjust the expectations accordingly, and then find the movie quite good.

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