‘Children’ bows in small Chinese town

$25 million collaboration a first for Euro-China

BEIJING — Chinese-Australian-German co-production “The Children of Huang Shi” had its premiere in the remote Hunan town in which the pic is set, part of a drive to tubthump the Jonathan Rhys Meyers starrer in the increasingly important China market.

The $25 million pic, helmed by Roger Spottiswoode, tells the tale of a British journalist, George Hogg, who helped 60 Chinese orphan boys escape Japanese forces during World War II.

With the Japanese snapping at their heels as they made their western advance across China in 1944, and with the help of Mao Zedong’s Communist guerrillas, Hogg escorted the boys from Huang Shi across 688 miles of treacherous mountainous terrain in northwestern China to a temple town in Shandan. On his trek, Hogg meets Lee (Radha Mitchell), an Australian adventurer turned nurse, and falls in with a Chinese partisan leader, played by Chow Yun-Fat. Michelle Yeoh also cameos as an aristocratic survivor. The inclusion of popular Chinese thesps should help the pic’s local B.O.

Just one year after he arrived in the town, Hogg contracted tetanus after injuring a toe playing basketball with the students. With no medicines to stop lockjaw, he died at age 29. The circumstances of his death were changed slightly for dramatic effect in the film, but the pic remains true to his spirit, says helmer Spottiswoode, whose credits include “Hiroshima,” “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “Under Fire.”

“It’s about an Englishman who wasn’t on either side. We are historically accurate. Terrible things happened. We have to look honestly at history,” Spottiswoode says.

The town was bedecked with red flags and film posters for the bow, and locals were excited at the arrival of the celebs. Rhys Meyers and Mitchell, off shooting other projects, were not available for the preem, but Chow laughed and joked with locals and visiting media.

The production piggybacks on co-production agreements between China and both Australia and the European Union. It is the first pic based on the official co-production treaty between China and the EU. Much of the pic was shot in Hengdian studios in eastern China.

Shot in Hubei and Gansu provinces, the pic bowed in Beijing April 3 and will show throughout China. A limited U.S. release is scheduled for May.

Feng Yunyu contributed to this report.

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