Movie Review: KULEANA

A new feature film about what it means to be Hawaiian opens in theaters across the islands this weekend.

It's called KULEANA, and I strongly recommend it.

Nohea voice over: In grade school we pledged allegiance to the flag and the United States of America, but they never told us the truth about the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893 or manifest destiny: how they stole the land from our people."

Written and directed by Brian Kohne, who grew up on Maui in the 1970's, KULEANA, which means "responsibility," tells a strong, heavily plotted story that is well acted and superbly shot and edited with touches of magical realism. The film has been called "tropical film noir," because it's mainly an entertaining murder mystery full of secrets, lies, and surprise revelations.

It's also about Hawaiian culture and why Hawaiians must struggle to save what's left of their ancestral lands.

We first meet the central characters in 1959. Nohea Kanekoa is a high spirited young boy living with his loving father and his wise grandmother played by Marlene Sai. Nohea's friend, Kim, has been adopted by an abusive, corrupt Caucasian named Victor Coyle, who's the main villain of the story.

After Nohea's father and Kim mysteriously disappear, the film shifts to 1971. Nohea, convincingly played by Moronai Kanekoa, is now a disillusioned Viet Nam vet who lost his lower left leg in combat. His grandmother is sick and he is deep in debt. The unscrupulous Victor (played by Stefan Shaefer) wants to buy the family land cheap and is willing to do anything even commit murder to achieve his goal.

A cynical gangster well played by comedian Mel Cabang is willing to finance Victor.

We begin to better understand the complex web of lies and deceit at play here when Kristina Anapau as Rose, Victor's wife and Kim's mother, visits a police detective played wonderfully by Augie T.

Detective: Your husband! He's like every troublemaker on Hawaii 5-0 combined.

Later, after missing for 12 years,, Sonya Balmores as Kim shows up and Nohea at first refuses to believe it's her.

Nohea: Stay away from me, OK?

KULEANA is a fine film that will resonate with audiences anywhere, but if you live in Hawaii and love these islands, don't miss it.

Terry Hunter, Hawaii News Now.  thunter@hawaiinewsnow.com