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25 October 2011

Once Were Warriors (1994)

I never knew this film even existed until I moved to New Zealand. And then I felt obliged to watch it... like a right of passage. For the record: I drew the line at listening to Crowded House. I know I'll be shot and my passport confiscated for that last comment :-)

Nig and his new mates
Once Were Warriors, 1994 Fine Line Features

There's so much to this film that makes me uncomfortable... But that's exactly what the film aims to deliver... an edge!

Set in spitting distance of Highway 1 somewhere in the suburbs of South Auckland, Once Were Warriors drops us into the disfunctional lives of the Heke family. We have wife-beating, stranger-beating and brother-beating. We have drugs, suicide, gangs and rape. We have alcoholism, vandalism and burgulary. We even have tattoos, incest and violence.

It's not a happy story.

My name is Jake the Muss
Once Were Warriors, 1994 Fine Line Features

At the heart of the mess is the hard-headed Jake the Muss played by Kiwi Institution and Intergalactic Bountyhunter, Temuera Morrison. Jake drinks over-sized bottles of Lion Red and you're never quite sure when he's going to snap... but you know full well that he will snap. I'm not too big to admit that he scares the life out of me!

Breakfast time
Once Were Warriors, 1994 Fine Line Features

And then there are his family: Beth the down-trodden wife played by Rena Owen; Gracie the optimistic and clever daughter played by Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell; Nig the defiant eldest son played by Julian Arahanga; and Boogie the sensitive and confused number two son played by Taungaroa Emile. Oh yeah, and there are the two youngest: Polly and Huata played by Pachael Morris Jnr and Jospeh Kariau.

Once Were Warriors distills the woes and tribulation of disenfranchised Maori. On the one hand there is the God-awful family situation and on the other we see each member of the family trying to come to terms with their lot in life in their own different ways. Nig turns to gangs; Boogie and ultimately Beth turn to their Whanau and the Marai. Jake prefers the comfort of a Lion Red and a good old sing-song.

Jake leads the chorus
Once Were Warriors, 1994 Fine Line Features

This film has a lot to say and it packs it in with a neat story based upon the Alan Duff novel of the same name. It's a grim tale with some tense moments. While some bits are just plain difficult to watch, there are some great situations and the ending is kind of uplifting.

I liked the bit where Boogie learns the meaning of being a Maori. He's being taught to perform a Haka and the instructor gives the boys a shake-up with a 'if you want fame, well fame costs' sort of speech. Great stuff!

And have I ever told you how much I love New Zealand? The New Zealand portrayed in this film is not the one I know, but this film's an interesting diversion and well worth a watch.

In association with the New Zealand Film Commission

Taringa whakarongo!
Kia rite! Kia rite! Kia mau!
Au! Hi!
Taka takahia! Hi!
Taka takahia! Hi!
Taka takahia! Hi!
Turi pakia!
Tōia aha?
Whakatōria mai te wairua
O ngā matua tīpuna
Ki roto i tō taku manawa
Hei arataki i ahau e
Ki roto i tēnei ao.

On the Triple-B I'm going to smash 6 eggs on the floor and you can cook your own f**king dinner! Oh dear! I shouldn't have said that...


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