The Children of Huang Shi is a story about doing what you have to, what needs to be done simply became you are the only one there who can. This film is not about what you are but what you can be when the need arises and you are put to the test.
The Children of Huang Shi begins in China during the Japanese occupation in 1938 with George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a reporter from Great Britain covering the war. Hogg wants to cover what’s really going on during the war, the stories that aren’t being reported on. After he sneaks into a hot zone with his colleague Barns (David Wenham) under the guise of bringing Red Cross medical aid, Hogg sees and hears far more than he bargained for. Hogg witnesses genocide and major war crimes first-hand, an offense that almost gets him killed if not for the intervention of a Chinese rebel leader by the name of Chen Hansheng (Chow Yun Fat).
Wanting to keep Hogg safe, Hansheng brings him to Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell), an Australian nurse who gives free medical care to the Chinese rebels and the indigent. Pearson, in turn, takes Hogg to an orphanage, an old building where parentless children are staying, watched over by a single old woman. Hogg is to stay there and be their new caretaker. This is the point in The Children of Huang Shi where the main plot emerges. Instead of standing on the sidelines of events and merely reporting on them, Hogg becomes part of them and changes a small segment of humanity for the better. Hogg slowly, over the course of his time with them, becomes what the sixty orphaned children need to survive and thrive. He becomes their teacher, their provider, their father figure, but most importantly, their friend.
During the course of The Children of Huang Shi, some of the physical and mental horrors of war are shown. The viewer is shown how the events of war change people, their personalities, how they see themselves and the world around them. This metamorphosis is seen in Hogg but even more clearly in orphaned Shi-Kai (Guang Li), an aristocratic boy who saw his family brutalized before being executed in front of his eyes. After that moment in Shi-Kai’s life, he was no longer a boy. Maturity and the real world’s harsh realities have shattered his adolescence into innumerable pieces. Shi-Kai, metaphorically speaking, has become Humpty-Dumpty and could never be put back together again the way he used to be.
When Hogg, Hansheng, Pearson and the orphans decide to make the three month trek over the snow-covered Liu Pan Shan Mountains after a conversation Hogg has with Mrs. Wang (Michelle Yeoh), how much Hogg has grown to care about the orphans and the lengths to which he will go to protect and safeguard their lives is exemplified. At first journalism and going to great lengths to get a story are Hogg’s priorities in life but by the third act of The Children of Huang Shi, it has become his wards.
Roger Spottiswoode’s The Children of Huang Shi is not the best war film ever made nor was it ever intended to be. It’s a story within a larger story, a story about war's consequences on the smallest members of society and one man’s struggle to protect what little of it he could.