- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

A young man of privilege finds his calling along with love and redemption on a trip to a foreign land.

At least in its basic outline, however, it’s true.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Match Point”) plays George Hogg, a real-life hero who graduated from Oxford with a degree in economics and just months later was running for his life when he ran afoul of the Japanese army. In 1937, the adventure-hungry young man is working as a bored journalist in westernized Shanghai, largely left alone by the Japanese invaders. The Japanese won’t allow press into the heart of occupied China, but the resourceful Hogg manages to sneak his way in.

He certainly found excitement. After witnessing part of the Nanking massacre - and taking pictures of it - he’s put in front of a firing squad and saved at the last moment by “Jack” Chen (Chow Yun-Fat, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), a communist guerilla.

Jack likes blowing things up. He’s a handsome, dedicated rebel who introduces Hogg to a beautiful, dedicated relief worker, Lee (Radha Mitchell, “Melinda and Melinda”), who suggests Hogg recover from his wounds at an orphanage.

Lee has an ulterior motive: She needs someone to keep the tykes in line because there’s not a single adult to tame them. These unruly children don’t make a great first impression, but soon, the Englishman is smitten with both them and Lee. He eventually risks his life to walk the 60 children to safety 700 miles through the mountains in winter when the communists, the nationalists and the Japanese all set their eyes on the fighting-age boys.

“The Children of Huang Shi” starts out as an exhilarating action tale. (Director Roger Spottiswoode also directed the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies.”) There are haunting sequences in the China-filmed movie, as when a youngster sells cigarettes to the survivors of a bombing. The characters get a little predictable, though - even if you haven’t read screenwriter James MacManus’ book on George Hogg.

More insight into each character’s motivation would have made for a deeper film. Yet the excellent cast does a good job with what they are given. Mr. Rhys Meyers, who smolders on the small screen as Henry VIII in “The Tudors,” is just as gripping on the big screen. Michelle Yeoh (“Tomorrow Never Dies”) isn’t even his love interest, but his scenes with the woman playing a down-on-her-luck aristocrat are deliciously tense with attraction.

**1/2

TITLE: “The Children of Huang Shi”

RATING: R (Some disturbing and violent content)

CREDITS: Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Written by Jane Hawksley and James MacManus.

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

WEB SITE: childrenofhuangshi.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS