"The Children of Huang Shi" teases us with the possibility of seeing Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh onscreen together for the first time since the 2000 hit "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
Sadly, that never happens. The two are barely in the movie at all, much less sharing scenes — as much as we'd all like that to happen.
And that's not the only promise left unfilled by this stuffy, by-the-numbers drama. Despite having a good cast and a good premise, it never moves us like it should.
After all, it is based on the true story of George Hogg, an English journalist who wound up witnessing the Japanese occupation of China, prior to the start of World War II.
In this version of events, Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Myers) sneaks into China by pretending to be a Red Cross aid worker.
Hogg even gets photos of Japanese atrocities and is nearly killed as well. But a revolutionary named Chen Hansheng (Chow) rescues him in the nick of time.
Rather than take Hogg to the nearest border, Chen drops him off at an orphanage in the mountains. (He's clearly trying to get Hogg to "pay it forward" and help out the troubled orphans.)
The film is beautifully shot and the performances are competent, even if the always welcome Yeoh barely gets much screen time as a sympathetic merchant.
And unfortunately, director Roger Spottiswoode and the screenwriters spend too much time on a cliched romantic subplot, about the relationship between Hogg and an Australian nurse (Radha Mitchell).
Frankly, we'd much rather hear the stories of the orphans themselves. But this film waits till the very end for that. (There are a few, brief interview snippets with the surviving orphans, which hint about what the film could have been had it been a documentary.)
"The Children of Huang Shi" is rated R for some strong, disturbing violent imagery (mass shootings and warfare, including explosive mayhem), some blood and gore, scattered profanity, a pair of brief sex scenes, brief drug content (prescription medicines), slurs based on nationality and political beliefs, brief partial male nudity, and some suggestive language. Running time: 125 minutes.