Posts Tagged ‘HIFF


The Curious Case of a Barbarian Princess


We Hawaiians are a funny bunch. We want the moon but we don’t want to lasso it and pull it down ourselves. We also can’t make decisions together (another post altogether–actually, another blog altogether). Here’s the setup: a movie or tv show is made about or depicts characters from Hawaii. Protests and objections ensue because the representations of locals, specifically Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture, are depicted inaccurately.

Case in Point: Barbarian Princess. It tells the story of one of the kingdom of Hawaii’s last royals, a young girl who at age 17 had to deal with the aftermath of her homeland being dissolved. As far as I know, this is the first legitimate movie to showcase Hawaiian history AND have a chance for some kind of release beyond the shores of Hawaii. At the heart of the “controversy” is that the lead actress is not of Hawaiian ancestry and that the title of the film is inaccurate and offensive (reports via Honolulu Advertiser and KHNL).

Ok, I get it. Ideally we’d like to have our own people (Hawaiians) play roles based on ourselves. I also can see how at first glance the title Barbarian Princess may seem offensive. But my feeling is that these are small gripes in the bigger scheme of things. Here we have a movie about our people that could potentially be released across the country–a movie that tells the story of Hawaii, its people, and our history. In essence, something to educate the world about Hawaii. Doesn’t this sound like a good thing?

An early poster for the movie which shows the film's previous title.

An early poster for the movie which shows the film's previous title.

I say, it is. As a movie person, when I put down the $10 that it costs for a movie ticket these days I want to be sure that I’m paying for something good. If the actor chosen for a role can act, portray their character well, and make the audience believe that they are that character then what does it matter what race, ethnicity or gender they are? Throughout the history of Hollywood there have been tons of cases where actors have been chosen for roles where they might not have originally fit. An African American actor in place of a Caucasian one, a male character rewritten as a female one, and all different other scenarios. The fact of the matter is, in movies actors take on the role of someone other than themself and so I have no problem with a non-Hawaiian playing a Hawaiian.

As for the title of the movie, Barbarian Princess, I actually like the title and applaud the producers for going back to it. Originally the title was given to Ka’iulani by the media during that time in anti-monarchy propaganda, when in actuality she was far from it. This is the message that the creators of the movie are trying to convey. By naming the movie Barbarian Princess, something clearly Ka’iulani was not, it sets up an allegory for the audience. For us here in Hawaii, before we see the movie we question title as we see it as something that’s not true. For those outside of Hawaii, or have little to no knowledge of Hawaiian history, they see the title and after watching the movie find out that she wasn’t actually a “barbarian princess” and then wonder why the movie was given that title. In both cases, the title Barbarian Princess gives people something to think about and chew on–which in the end is something that any good movie does . . . it challenges you and makes you think.


What Do You See at HIFF 2009?


Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, and Honolulu. What do these cities all have in common? They all have their own film festivals. The 29th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival(HIFF) kicked off last week and I have to say that I’m more excited than ever to see some of the movies, excuse me-FILMS, that they will we showing this year. Traditionally in the past, film festivals have been about high art and high concept–which isn’t a bad thing, but it does tend to ward off a lot of people. However, I’ve noticed that in the past five years or so, film festivals have gone more mainstream (which is a good thing and bad thing depending on how you look at it). All of this makes me excited because now more people can find something they want to see–HIFF being no exception.

My Experience with HIFF

The past year or so I’ve been telling myself that I’ve got to take advantage and see something at HIFF. Has it happened? No. There always seems to be something that comes up and I haven’t been able to go. However, I have seen one film at HIFF. This was about 8-9 years ago but the lone film I’ve seen at HIFF was Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Amazingly right after I discovered this great anime the movie came out and luckily they were showing it at HIFF. Went down to Dole about an hour early, got a ticket, and stood in line. Another thing I like about HIFF is that they have some great posters. A good one they had recently showed a hula dancer with film strips as a hula skirt. My favorite HIFF poster though came out ten years ago for the 19th HIFF. It had Hawaii’s very own Miss Universe Brooke Lee sitting on film equipment–ok so I’m somewhat biased because I just happened to have an autographed copy.

Needless to say that HIFF has been attracting me for quite sometime and this year I’m finally going to take the plunge. Here are the movies I’m interested in seeing at this year’s HIFF.

Red Cliff


What it’s about: China, 208AD. The emperor plans to wage war in order to unite all of China. Two smaller kingdoms ban together as the only way to repel the emperor.

Why I want to see it: Two words–John Woo. Looking through the program I saw the name John Woo pop up and I have to say it piqued my interest. This is the guy that brought us Face Off, Mission Impossible 2, Broken Arrow, Paycheck, and Hard Boiled–so he knows his action. I’m hoping this will be Woo’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, just with more action and less doves. According to the HIFF notes the production of this movie was the largest in Chinese cinema history so that’s saying a lot with this Chinese epic having a monumental budget. It’s not hard to believe either with some of the biggest stars from Asia, headlined by Tony Leung. Sadly as of this post the line for this movie has gone RUSH(very few tickets remaining–to be sold 15 minutes prior to showtime). On a positive note, if I can’t make it during HIFF, I’m confident it’ll get a wide release next month.

Art & Copy (official website)


What it’s about: A documentary film about advertising and design featuring some of the guys that have given us some of the most recognized ad campaigns in the last 20 years.

Why I want to see it: I’m a design guy so when I came across this trailer on during the summer I was really excited. Call me crazy but I geek out hearing about how stuff like this gets developed and how these guys work. While there is more to design that just advertising, this stuff is probably the most recognized by the average person and since it is so recognized I think going behind the scenes and finding out how they did it is interesting.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


What it’s about: With the extraordinary ability to guide the imaginations of others, Dr. Parnassus makes not one, but two deals with the devil . . . and you know the devil always comes to collect.

Why I want to see it: Let’s face it, this is the last cinematic performance of Heath Ledger. After the success he had with the Joker in The Dark Knight it really is a shame that he passed away. Having said that, it seems as if Parnassus has been quietly shoved aside and forgotten. I remember hearing right after his death that he was working on this movie and that principal photography was not yet complete and there was some speculation that this movie wouldn’t even see the light of day. However, another reason I want to see this is because of the way that they figured out the problem of continuing the movie without Ledger. From what I’ve heard and saw at this year’s Comic-Con, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell all took on Heath’s role when his character steps into the dream world. Will it work? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but it is an interesting idea which makes me want to check it out.

The Warrior and the Wolf


What it’s about: China, pre-unification (a really long time ago). Soldiers are sent out to remote parts of the land, and after time lose touch with themselves. The story follows one of these such soldiers as he rises to take control of the troops and falls in love with a mysterious woman.

Why I want to see it: As the closing night film for HIFF, the trailer and story premise sucked me in as it looks really similar to the size and scope of Red Cliff but seems to be more character driven. What can I say, I guess I’m a sucker for big ancient Chinese epics. Warrior also has Chinese and Hollywood cinema star Maggie Q (Mission Impossible 3, Balls of Fury, Live Free or Die Hard) starring in this film as well so there is one recognizable face in the mix here. Sadly, I won’t be able to make it to the screening due to Warrior Football being on the same night (priorities I know). Have to look for it when it comes out on DVD though.

Other notable films at HIFF:

Barbarian Princess: The biopic of Hawaiian princess Ka’iulani is causing a stir in our local community with a non-Hawaiian actor in the lead role. Two additional screenings have been added.

Precious: On it’s way to a wide release, Precious has been receiving critical praise as it’s made its way through the festival circuit. How do you grow and overcome adversity in an environment with no support? This film shows us how.

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