CHILDREN OF THE SILK ROAD
In December 1937, young Oxford graduate George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), arrives in Shanghai just as the invading Japanese take control. Hungry for adventure, he throws himself into the maelstrom taking a job as a junior reporter. Within a few days he and the more experienced war correspondent, Barnes (David Wenham), talk their way into the occupied territory of Nanjing where they split up. Hogg explores the ruined city and witnesses a massacre of 200 Chinese men, women and children by Japanese soldiers. Barely escaping with his life, Hogg and an American nurse (Radha Mitchell) meet up with the leader of a Chinese partisan group (Chow Yun-Fat). Together they rescue 60 orphaned children across hundreds of miles of treacherous terrain, through snow-covered mountains, an unforgiving desert - all the while trying to evade the advancing Japanese soldiers and Chinese Nationals.
Review by Louise Keller:
Great battles can be won without weapons is the thrust of this potent true story in which a naïve British journalist discovers an unexpected way to make a difference. When we first meet Jonathan Rhys Myer's George Hogg in 1937 China as the Japanese invade, he uses his wits and quick thinking to get him where he wants to go - the front line. But as he later discovers in an abandoned schoolhouse turned orphanage, his wits and quick thinking are put to far better use, namely teaching a group of Chinese orphans self respect, survival and the will to live. The settings in remote China are wonderfully diverse as seen through Xiaoding Zhao's lens, and the passionate and heartfelt saga unfolds beautifully, capturing our hearts.
George Hogg's story is a remarkable one that illustrates how chance and circumstance can change even the Who? Why? How? questions that every journalist deems to ask. I would have liked screenwriters Jane Hawksley and James MacManus to humanise Hogg a little more, but Rhys Myer steps into the shoes of the man trying to rebel from his pacifist parents with great sincerity. Radha Mitchell is terrific as the dedicated nurse looking for freedom but who has no time for the problems of people without problems. The scene in which she uses a naked Hogg ('Don't call me Pig') to demonstrate how anti-flea powder is safely used to a bunch of laughing orphans is delightful. Michelle Yeoh injects an understated melancholy in her Mrs Wang, the merchant who sells everything including opium which still allows pain but takes away the hurt and Yun-Fat Chow is underused as the partisan leader. It is the faces of the Chinese cast, especially the children that will haunt you and director Roger Spottiswoode elicits excellent performances from them all.
'When there's no one else, you do what's needed,' says Mitchell's Lee, a sentiment that everyone emulates in these uncertain times when the ever constant bomber planes loom above and the orphans are exposed to things no children should ever see. There are soldiers, gunfire and killings as they journey along the Silk Road linking the East and the West, but there are also golden sunsets, tranquil waters, soft rolling hills, stone bridges, icy snow before the spectacle of the Gobi desert. David Hirschfelder's music contributes also to this gripping and inspiring drama that involves us in the plight of these courageous and remarkable people.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A superbly crafted film, Children of the Silk Road immerses us in late 30s China with a couple of westerners amidst the Japanese invasion of China. The detailed and effective production design, coupled with a terrific score, help propel the film's mood, but it's the storytelling and the performances that grab us most strongly.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is at his best here as George Hogg, the young Englishman who seeks adventure and finds a deep well of human decency within himself. Radha Mitchell delivers another nuanced and engaging performance as an American nurse who also finds something of her real self by the end of the film, while Chow Yun-Fat shows off his much improved English to create a charismatic Chinese partisan who likes to blow things up. The children are all superb, notably the only English speaking teenager, Sydney resident Guang Li as the troubled and angry Shi-Kai. Notable, too, is the engaging Michelle Yeoh as a widow who is a successful trader of goods, medicines - and opium. David Wenham makes an effective but brief appearance at the beginning of the film.
Based on the real Hogg's life, the screenplay combines the story's powerful elements of war drama, traumatised orphans, a romantic thread, and even a road movie as Hogg leads the children to the safety of a remote Chinese township to escape the nasty Japs. (Needless to say, this co-production between China, Australia and Germany does not show the Japanese in a good light.)
Roger Spottiswoode clearly relishes the chance to make a film full of relevance and meaning, so rich in humanity and so layered in texture. The locations are spectacular and dramatic, the insights to China and history fascinating and the end result is thoroughly satisfying.
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CHILDREN OF THE SILK ROAD (M)
AKA The Children of Huang Shi
CAST: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Shuyuan Jin, Guang Li, Matt Walker, David Wenham
PRODUCER: Arthur Cohn, Martin Hagemann, Peter Loehr, Wieland Schulz-Keil, Jonathan Shteinman,
DIRECTOR: Roger Spottiswoode
SCRIPT: James MacManus, Jane Hawksley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Xiaoding Zhao
EDITOR: Geoffrey Lamb
MUSIC: David Hirschfelder
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steven Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 3, 2008