The Children of Huang Shi is a 2008 drama which is based upon a real historical context surrounding actual events which occurred following the Japanese occupation within China during the 1930's. Set during a time in which China was in a state of turmoil, the film explores an important story about heroic acts. From executive producers Lillian Birnbaum (Central Station) and Taylor Thomson, The Children of Huang Shi explores a little told story about an effort undertaken to save orphan children during this time.
Set in Nanjing, China in 1938, the story begins with British adventurer and journalist George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) coming to China. This journalist with a thirst for telling a story about the events taking place in China ends up helping to care for and ultimately save the lives of children orphaned by war alongside the help of nurse Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell).
Hogg also gets aid by a resistance fighter, Jack (also known as Chen) (Chow Yun-Fat), who saves Hogg's life at one dramatic point during the story and who also offers his guidance, advice, and support throughout the events of the story. Another key character is Mrs. Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a wealthy businesswoman whom Hogg ends up negotiating with throughout the story to try and get vegetable seeds for growing a garden with a harvest needed for the children.
From a production standpoint, The Children of Huang Shi actually does have some noteworthy elements. The music score by David Hirschfelder (The Dressmaker, Elizabeth) is quite lovely and serene (although it seems sometimes uncharacteristic for the serious subject matter). The music is beautiful and enjoyable and hard to fault for some of the film's other flaws. The cinematography by Xiaoding Zhao (House of Flying Daggers, The Curse of the Golden Flower) is staggeringly beautiful and one should expect no less from a master of his craft like Zhao.
The screenplay for the film was written by Jane Hawksley (Whatever Lola Wants) and James MacManus. Unfortunately, the story isn't particularly well told. This film drags on with a quite mundane pace and poor characterizations. The script has cringe-worthy dialogue and heavy sentimentalism which doesn't feel genuine at any point during the story. (For the record, I'm someone who actually love sentimentalism in film when properly implemented. Here, it is not.)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (48 Hrs., The 6th Day), The Children of Huang Shi is a rather sappy, overlong, and under-cooked film which feels altogether misshapen and badly formed from beginning to end. It's sort of like experiencing a film that sounds appealing (like a potential Oscars-worthy film) but getting a B-movie masquerading as an A-movie instead.
The Children of Huang Shi is presented on Blu-ray in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. The Blu-ray release is presented with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation with a high bit-rate encode. The presentation quality on this release is uniformly excellent with impressive color reproduction, fine film grain, and overall clarity. This is a well done Blu-ray presentation with no problematic banding or compression artifacts.
The audio for The Children of Huang Shi is presented on this release with two lossless audio options: DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. The dialogue clarity is clear and crisp. The film's score music sounds impressive with clean, clear reproduction.
Included with the release is a booklet featuring an essay written by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.
The film includes an isolated lossless score track.
The Challenge of Huang Shi (SD, 12 min.) is a behind the scenes featurette featuring interviews with the cast and crew including director Roger Spottiswoode and cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao. The piece focuses on the production of the film and the views of the cast on the narrative and story.
The Children of Huang Shi is based on a true story. The story being told feels important to tell in it's exploration of the story of journalist George Hogg helping orphaned children during a turbulent war time. Unfortunately, the film's execution behind-the-scenes leaves something to be desired with a lackluster script and ineffective direction.
Twilight Time does deliver excellent picture-quality on the release. In that regard, this is a quality presentation worthy of some merit.