“The Children of Huang Shi”
 
            It’s a heartbreaker all the way around, and it’s awkward in too many places, but this is one of those based-on-a-true-story wartime epics that is worth the effort.
            It’s Shanghai , 1937.  The Japanese have invaded China .  The roads are crowded with refugees.  Most reasonable people want to get out as quickly as they can.  But journalists are not always included in that category.  George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is an Englishman practically fresh off the boat.  He’s spent some time in Japan , learning their language, and now he’s eager, as a cub reporter, for some real “action”, and puts himself directly in harm’s way, in Nanjing , camera in hand, ready to be the next great war correspondent.
            But talking himself into the war zone turns out to be a descent into hell that he did not anticipate.  He personally witnesses the slaughter of innocent civilians by Japanese soldiers.  Horrified, he snaps photographs of the carnage and cremation, then faces summary execution when he is captured, and his photographs are examined.  He is rescued by the Chinese rebels (already themselves divided into Nationalist and Communist), led by “Jack” Chen (Chow Yun Fat), but then he’s wounded in the escape attempt.  The next thing he knows, he wakes up in a field hospital, attended by the beautiful Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell), an adventurer-turned-nurse who is herself fluent in Mandarin. 
            This is about where we would have anticipated the beginning of the romance, but apparently it’s not as simple as that.   Lee takes our erstwhile Hemingway to recuperate in Huang Shi, where there is an orphanage filled with boys left to fend for themselves, some of whom are as angry as they are deprived.  She drops him off and leaves him to his own devices.  Of course, the first task is learning the language, and then, almost despite himself, he begins to care for these orphan boys (and they for him), along with an elderly woman who is officially the cook, but scrounging food is always a problem.  Hogg arranges with a sympathetic local merchant, who deals in everything from lintels to opium, to exchange seeds for vegetables.  Hogg fixes the generator, builds a basketball court, and begins classroom instruction.  All sounds peaceful, except the Japanese are now heading their way.
            “Jack” and Lee, also rousted out and running from the advancing troops, join George on an impossible-sounding trek----hundreds of miles across snow-covered mountain passes, to the safety of a small village at the end of the Gobi Desert ---with 60 kids!  Hard to imagine, but true.  What’s not hard to imagine is Hogg contracting tetanus along the way, and the end is a furious race to procure the medicine in time to help the man who himself helped so many.
            What began for George Hogg as a determination to have an international adventure turned out to resolve into an entirely different experience.  Like so many, his life was what happened to him while he was making other plans.  This isn’t really a religious movie.  God is never even mentioned.  But the scriptures make it plain:
“Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)
 
Questions for Discussion:
1)      When have events in your life radically altered the plans you had made?
2)      How should the Church extend care for orphans?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas