Children of Huang Shi (2008)

Rated: R for some disturbing and violent content.
Length: 125 minutes
Grade: BCAA=A-
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $7 million (1 U.S., 6 Intl.)

Written by: Jane Hawksley and James MacManus (First major movie for both of them)
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode (The 6th Day, Tomorrow Never Dies, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, Air America, Turner & Hooch, and Shoot to Kill)
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat, and Michelle Yeoh.

A young British reporter covering the Japanese invasion of China during World War 2 discovers himself recuperating at an orphanage where the boys are in danger of being conscripted. So he decides to try to get them out of the country to safety.

Entertainment Value: B
Based on a true story, this is very slow developing. But as a drama rather than an action movie, it’s fascinating and fairly well done, if a little dry. In fact, it felt like exactly the sort of film that the Academy would like and reward, but they didn’t for whatever reason. Instead they went ga-ga for Atonement. Go figure.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A-, Violence C, Language B, Illegality A
Opium use is a minor theme in the movie. There are a couple of romantic scenes and some mild profanity. But the real (only) concern here is violence, mostly at the very beginning where war violence, including a massacre of civilians and flashbacks to that are shocking.

Significant Content: A
Pouring your life out so that others may not merely live but actually thrive is a truly noble thing to do. There is nothing more loving than making personal sacrifices for others. Life is more than just food and shelter.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
At first, Hogg is doing something noble and risky by reporting on the atrocities of the Japanese in their invasion. This sort of brave action will get wide acclaim and earn him a living back home. But eventually, he gives this up for a far less glamorous and profitable life, even one which simultaneously seems absurd and valiant at the same time. I loved to see this juxtaposition, even as I feared to ponder the implications too long.

Discussion Questions:
~If it’s acceptable to take drugs like morphine for physical pain, why is it not okay to take them for emotional pain?
~When Hogg first comes to the orphanage and is not received well, he almost leaves. Why does he come back? Why can he leave but the children cannot? How does having a better place you could go to vital in keeping hope alive during tough times? How does it encourage you to consider quitting a hard task?
~Lee tells him that one of Hogg’s biggest tasks will be giving the children a reason to live. What are some of the ways in which he makes their lives more meaningful in addition to helping them fulfill their merely bodily needs?
~Hogg finds himself torn between his visceral desire for revenge and his family’s tradition of pacifism. What provokes him to question these views?
~How are Hogg’s skills and agricultural knowledge essential to him doing what he does? Do you think the average person from a modern society would have had the skills he had?
~When Chen says that he and Hogg have the luxury of their ideas because they are from good families, what is he getting at? Does his explanation of Lee’s pain excuse her drug use? Does it help Hogg have compassion for her? Why?
~What is the symbolic meaning of the sunflowers at the orphanage? How are frivolous beautiful things related to the goodness of life?
~What role do you think Christianity played in Hogg’s motivations in real life? Would it surprise you if he turned out to be a non-Christian?
~What opportunities are there in your own life to show that you have been inspired by Hogg’s example?

Overall Grade: A-
Even though it’s slow, the endorsement of sacrificial living is well-worth the watch. The end-credits interviews with the surviving children are quite moving.

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