And on the other hand...

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Children of Huang Shi

So how did I miss this one? I usually talk about movies over on the Yin Side for reasons that are inexplicable, even to myself, but how did I miss The Children of Huang Shi, with Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh and a couple of western actors I never heard of. Part of the recent preoccupation of Chinese films and dramas with the Japanese occupation in the late '30s, (think Rape of Nanjing and John Rabe), this film is about one of the old China Hands I am so drawn to, though I must say until now I never heard of George Hogg, a friend of Rewi Alley's.

Hogg was a British journalist in China in 1938 who wound up supporting and escorting a bunch of young orphaned Chinese boys from Huang Shi to Shandan (somewhere out west beyond Lanzhou) in a mini-Long March to prevent their conscription by either of the armies. (Don't even ask why it was a bunch of boys.) It's an emotional story that had me weeping like a Korean drama actress.

But I was puzzled why I never heard of this guy. I've explored these Old China Hand stories a lot; I am intrigued by the biographies of Graham Peck, Christopher Rand, David Kidd, John Blofeld...all those guys whose varied paths seemed to cross in some salon or other in late '30s China. But George Hogg? I can find no reference in Christopher Rand's son Peter's "China Hands" book, and I don't recall Graham Peck, a friend of Rewi Alley, making any reference to him. (But maybe I wasn't paying attention.) But there he is, with a grand story, made into a film in 2008.

In the movie, all connections to Rewi Alley are ignored (perhaps because Alley was a gay New Zealand Communist).

But what a film! Apart from a performance by a woman who was only slightly less annoying than Ally (not Rewi) Sheedy in "Short Circuit," the movie was enthralling, capturing the horrors of the Japanese occupation of China. (Perhaps we are interested in this now because tales of the Holocaust have gotten a little stale. But fascist brutality is fascist brutality in any hemisphere.) This history is poignant, perhaps ironic, in light of current bizarre Chinese posturing -- denying Nobel peace prizes and imprisoning people because they protest the handling of the baby milk scandal.

Politics aside, the movie has some spectacular scenes in the Chinese countryside, the most fabulous camel caravan I've even seen in film --dozens of Bactrian extras-- and a death scene in an abandoned Buddhist monastery that rivals anything in the longer Chinese dramas I have become addicted to. Which reminds me to remind you -- keep up with your tetanus shots! Not a nice way to go, even with a Buddha watching over you.

I think my favorite scene is when the little long march arrives in Lanzhou and is met by the local magistrate. Bear in mind this is a period of warlords and Communists and Nationalists and Japanese and who knows who. The exhausted Hogg explains that after having marched the boys for two months from Huang Shi, he will push on to Shandan. The inscrutable magistrate says, "I cannot let you do this." It's a heart stopping moment.

Until the magistrate says, "I have four Dodge trucks. You can borrow them." And off they go in those sturdy truck-tanks to safety. (I once owned, in 1972, a 1950 Dodge truck that I wish I still had. It was built like a tank, but had a really bad carburetor. I would love to have driven it across the Gobi. With a lot of cute young Chinese men. With good mechanical skills.)

I give this movie maybe an 88 on the Tao 61 scale. I stumbled onto it at the Blockbuster next door to my hairdresser. I chalk it up to some kind of synchronistic karma that I found it right before I got my haircut, an element that turns up in the film, but there, to rid the boys of lice.
Here's an excellent summary of the real story of George Hogg, with photos. If you watch the movie, you'll want to read this. If you read this you'll want to watch the movie.


The Rambling Taoist said...

While I know nothing of this movie, I have to leave a comment, if for no other reason than to defend Ally Sheedy!! I loved her in Short Circuit. I always tell my wife that she needn't worry that I might stray...unless Ally Sheedy shows up on the scene! (Then all bets are off.) :-D

baroness radon said...

It was the scene where she was telling Steve Gutenberg to pull of the road because the robot had appeared in the back of the van. If I had behaved like that my husband would have thrown me out. I should point out that her loves her too. It's probably a guy thing.

Still, this is a good movie, you might like it. Hogg was a pacifist caught in the midst of a terrible conflict with more factions than you can imagine. He accomplished a heroic thing even though he died. There is a little testimony to his courage over the ending credits by the four boys he adopted, now very old men.

You might find this interesting as you are reading Sun Tzu. The film quotes the TTC at one point, and Chow Yun Fat moves his outnumbered group along saying, "We can't win here; we'll fight tomorrow." I think he was working up to his role as Confucius.

baroness radon said...

I should say of my husband that "HE loves her too," I'm getting too Chinese, mixing up those third person pronouns...

sybil law said...

Sounds like an awesome movie, actually!
Ally Sheedy is kind of annoying in every movie: War Games, St. Elmo's Fire - really, she was only good in The Breakfast Club and that's because she didn't talk much.
I'm sure I can think of worse actresses, but she's just not that good - period. Clearly, she's always bothered me! :)
Have a great Thanksgiving!

baroness radon said...

I am completely bemused my really unnecessary offhand reference to Ally Sheedy generated comments.

It is an interesting movie, but strays from the actual truth for dramatic and somehwat romantic purposes. Hogg dies from a wound to his hand in a cart accident during a scary standoff with a Japanese scouts while transporting the boys. In fact, he contracted tetanus when he stubbed his toe playing basketball with them.

I think it's good when films like this drive you back to the history.

And we learn we have much to be thankful for.

YTSL said...

Hi Baroness Radon --

Have to confess that I didn't like "The Children of Huang Shi" too much. But I am grateful for it in that I happened to attend the premiere and the celebrity chosen to grace it was Chow Yun-fat who is quite the charmer in person as well on screen. :)

baroness radon said...

@YTSL--WOW! I thought CYF was particularly charming in this film. I think I enjoyed it because it was related to Rewi Alley's story, even if it didn't make it clear or accurate in the movie.

Kittie Howard said...

Thanks for the historical link. And what a history! I don't know enough about actresses to see/not see a movie, but love a good story (which this seems to be, even if the cause of Hogg's death changes) and think the vistas would be magnificent. Could feel your excitement about the movie and look forward to learning about Hogg's world.

GREAT post!!!

Almost forgot, gave you a shout-out on my post today.

Kittie Howard said...

Ohhh, but I wish I could crawl thru the internet and scoop up those sweet potatoes!

Happy you liked the photo. I took it this past summer in Tegensee, Austria, from our room. That area is soooo peaceful.