Stars: * 1/2
Rating: R for violence, bloodshed and mature themes
Run Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Director Roger Spottiswoode preys on the heart in this ill-conceived weeper that just won’t say die.
Shanghai 1937 is an enclave of luxurious sophistication but in distant Nanking a revolution is raging. Every foreign journalist worth his salt is clamoring to get to the front lines.
Eager beaver English shutterbug George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) maneuvers himself to action’s center stage but doesn’t like what he finds; shocking atrocities followed by a brutal arrest and exile to a decrepit orphanage a la “Lord of the Flies”.
Earnest Hogg, the ultimate fish out of water, flounders in his new environs, reluctantly warming to his young charges while making goo-goo eyes at do-gooder American nurse Lee Pearson (Radha Mitchell). The boys give George the business (as boys will) but he perseveres, building trust and basketball hoops to a crescendo of swelling violins.
Chinese veterans Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat lend authenticity but little else. Martial artist Yeoh would be better served dealing swift kicks to the head and Yun-Fat needs work on his English consonants. Melodrama rises to a fevered pitch when Hogg and his sixty-odd orphans are forced to hoof it over the Silk Road “Sound of Music” style. Blech.
Trashy histrionics aside there are some soft spots for those with a weakness for cross-cultural banalities and humanitarian heroics swaddled in cliché. I heard gentle weeping in the back rows so maybe I’m jaded.
Script is unfortunately laughable; a crying shame as more meaningful discourse could have put this lifeless historical dud on the map.