Thursday 24 July 2014

A Picture is worth a thousand words -- WEP-Challenge for July 2014

Welcome to WEP's Challenge for July 23-25, A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.

'A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words' is such a good theme for a writing challenge. I have been thinking of different ideas for weeks, but have not been able to get anything down on paper. Writer's block? Maybe. Or perhaps this theme is just too big or too close to the essence of everything I have worked for all my life. I love words and I love pictures. But I am not convinced that the one is more important or worth more than the other. Words and pictures just speak to us in different ways.

Anyway, I have failed in trying to invent a fictional story of my own. My imaginative well has gone dry. But I've kept thinking about this theme for weeks and even started seeing it in the movies that my son, Erik, has wanted me to see. Erik is twelve years old and intensely interested in the Far East and Chinese films and movie actors. Erik is a fan of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and other Chinese actors such as Chow Yun-Fat. 

Erik recommended that I look at the most recent version of The King and I, called Anna and the King (1999), since he knows that I like Jodie Foster. Chow Yun-Fat plays the King of Siam. [I have also seen, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) and Bulletproof Monk (2003), as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movie in which Chow Yun-Fat plays an ugly villain.]

So Erik wanted me to see, The Children of Huang Shi (2008) based on the life of George Hogg, an Englishman who successfully evacuated 60 Chinese orphans to a far away safer place, when China was invaded by Japan in the late 1930s.

I am always wary of the Hollywood versions of history and biography, so I am not saying that this film is entirely historically accurate. I haven't had time to dig deeper into the real life story that inspired this film (although I have found a biography of the real George Hogg). But putting any anachronisms aside, this film has a scene that has fired my imagination and seems to illustrate the power of images over words. I'd like to share it now. I wish I had made it up myself. 

George Hogg arrives in China, in Shanghai, after leaving England by way of the US and then Japan. He is a young journalist and like many western journalists, he wants to get to Nanjing, a city a few hours west of Shanghai, to see how the Japanese are treating the Chinese there. But the Japanese have closed the city of Nanjing to all journalists. Japan has not declared war on China. They claim to be there to help the Chinese during their civil war. 

Hogg makes a deal with the driver of a Red Cross truck carrying medical supplies to Nanjing. Only the Red Cross gets passes to Nanjing. Using the Red Cross driver's identity and truck, and together with two other young journalists, he drives to the city of Nanjing, which lies in ruins. The three young men split up to report on different things with the promise to meet back at the truck the following evening before nine o'clock.

Hogg climbs up to the second floor of a battered house to get a better view of a park where many Japanese soldiers have gathered. He takes out his Leica-camera and starts snapping photos without knowing what's going on. He sees large groups of Chinese civilians being marched into the center of a concrete ring. Men, women and children stand in rows, not seeming to know what is going to happen next. Suddenly automatic weapons are uncovered and Hogg hears cries of panic and horror as the Japanese soldiers start shooting and killing the Chinese. Every last one. 

Young Hogg, whose family are pacifists, is horrified and shocked, but continues to take pictures, since he feels that this is something that the rest of the world should know about. Night falls and the soldiers lite a fire to burn the bodies. When the soldiers seem to have left the fire to burn, Hogg leaves the house to get a closer look, and takes pictures of the fire. Then he leaves the park looking for a place to hide until it's time to return to Shanghai with his two friends. Unfortunately, he can't escape a group of Japanese soldiers and is taken into custody. Nothing is said. In the next scene, we see Hogg sitting and waiting in silence while a junior officer with white gloves gives a senior officer Hogg's camera and a stack of prints. The younger officer stands and waits while his superior looks one by one through the photos that show the atrocities of the previous day, at every stage. 

In the next scene, Hogg is forcefully led away by four soldiers and the same junior officer who developed and printed his negatives. The Japanese officer is wearing a sword. He removes his hat, holster, jacket and shirt while the the other soldiers force Hogg to his knees and bend down his head. Hogg's hands are tied behind his back. The young officer raises his sword, aiming at Hogg's neck, when machine-gun shots are fired. The shirtless Japanese executioner drops his sword and falls dead to the ground, as do the other four soldiers. A group of seven Chinese men pull Hogg to his feet and run with him to safety.

Mega-star, Chow Yun-Fat, plays Han-Sheng Chen, the communist Chinese, who saves Hogg's life. George Hogg is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

'Why did they want to kill you? The Japanese usually leave British nationals alone,' asks Chen while cutting the rope around Hogg's hands and giving him a cigarette to smoke. 

'I saw something that I shouldn't. I took photographs and they found them.'

Word count according to WordCalc: 984


Best wishes,

First Commenter:

Nilanjana Bose


Despite the fact that I don't feel this post is as good as it should be, I have received very kind comments from, so far, five readers. Thank you all so much for your encouragement.

I have tried to get more information about the historical background to this film. The Nanking Massacre did indeed take place. Thanks to Wikipedia, I have found a list of films that touch on this horrible event. (Click on Wikipedia and read more about what happened in Nanjing or Nanking). What happened or even if it really did happen is debated to this day. 

Main category: Nanking Massacre films

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