New 'Ka'iulani' a bit improved


POSTED: Friday, May 14, 2010

A fellow doesn't often get a chance to take two swings at a new film, but then, this isn't any film.

Released to festivals as “;Barbarian Princess”; last year, writer-director Marc Forby's love letter to Hawaii's last royal chance at self-determination caused the most comment about its decidedly ironic title, with many of Hawaiian descent disliking the title immensely. The “;Barbarian”; pilikia overshadowed the film's quiet charms.

At the time, although I thought the film had its moments, it abounded with missed dramatic opportunities. It is a kind of lyrical agitprop, set in the no-edges world of romance novels, where the villains literally twirl their mustachios and heroines gaze soulfully into the sun setting upon the golden sea horizon, hearts beating pridefully beneath their jeweled bodices, hair tumbled thither and yon by zephyrs of the wind ... yeah, that kind of stuff. You either surrender to it or run screaming.






        Rated: PG


Opens today in theaters






As history it's mostly impression, with events telescoped together and vastly oversimplified. So? That's why movies are entertainment, not lectures. It gets the gist pretty much right, and my favorite moment is when prissy arch villain Lorrin Thurston realizes his attempt to conjoin his autocratic despotism with the United States will backfire because the U.S. is a democracy. The disenfranchised natives will get to vote!


THE PRIMARY problem I had with the film at the time was its genteel-ness. Despite the bummers that rain down upon Ka'iulani, there's little sense of despair or anger. There's little passion, damn little fire in the belly, and what there is is wasted on a pleasant romance conjured up by the script, aimed apparently at the My Little Pony market.

Ouch. Yeah, I know. But here the film comes again, re-labeled “;Princess Ka'iulani”; and supposedly tweaked. I watched it carefully, trying to compare it in my memory with the original film, which un-spooled last fall at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

It's not perceptively different but it seems so. It feels a bit more brisk, more angular, more focused. More fun to watch. It might be my imagination, but I suspect seconds have been cut here and there, tightening it up, and maybe even an entire scene or two set in Britain. The soundtrack doesn't seem as overbearing, either—has it been remixed?

I liked the film more the second time, which is either a tribute to editing wizardry on the part of the filmmakers or another sign of my increasing dotage. If there were changes, they are subtle and well thought out. This time around, however, you'll recognized more of the English cast, particularly if you're a patron of Showtime's “;The Tudors.”;

An interesting connection. A gorgeously mounted “;Tudors”;-style catty soap opera, set among Hawaiian royalty? Imagine the horror, and all the fun that would ensue!

Read Burl Burlingame's original review of “;Princess Kaiulani”; at www.hsblinks.com/2e6.



» “;The film also captures a lush and sweeping singular sense of place regarding Hawaii that has never been seen before on the big screen, in contrast to that exotic playground promoted by tourist enterprises.”; — Prairie Miller, NewsBlaze

» “;The basic objection I have to the film is that it takes all kinds of liberties, running roughshod over the history and character of our people for the sake of presenting a contrived love story. The worse part is that the producers are clueless to what they have done. They believe they are doing Hawaii a favor by telling our story, when their real interest is to line their pockets. Just like Thurston, Dole and their band of traitors, the end justifies the means.”; — Leon Siu, www.barbarianprincessmovie.com

» “;In Forby's hands, Kaiulani's story amounts to almost nothing, given how one-dimensionally she's characterized—aside from being noble and loyal to her nation and its people, Kaiulani is wholly devoid of human features—and how leaden the exposition-guided script copes with its historical tale.”; — Nick Schager, Slant

» “;In only her second lead role, Kilcher persuasively portrays Kaiulani's transition from sheltered royal to marginalized monarch, appealingly capturing the young princess's growing determination to advocate for her nation.”; — Justin Lowe, Hollywood Reporter

» “;Forby's stiff direction and starchy dialogue offer Kilcher little scope to shine, but the pic at least gathers some emotional traction as Kaiulani blossoms into a political activist.”; — Richard Kuipers, Variety

» “;Writer/director Marc Forby fails to effectively dramatize Kaiulani's doomed plight and her courageous, compassionate nobility, relying on lengthy exposition, heavy-handed symbolism involving 'memory' seashells and stunning cinematography, including access to exclusive interiors of Iolani Palace.”; — Susan Granger, Entertainment Commentaries

» “;If only the film weren't deadly dull. Writer/director Marc Forby is earnest and impassioned, but he takes the least interesting path towards every dramatic high point, and in so doing, renders the princess' story as engrossing as an informational sketch one might see performed at a national park.”; — Matt Zoller Seitz, IFC.com

» “;'Princess Kaiulani' combines the profound natural beauty of Hawaii with the sweeping romance of a classic Merchant Ivory epic.”; — Leanne Cari, CinemaBlend

» “;Instead of being ironic, it's deeply meaningful that creating a Hawaiian princess that's so real, riveting, and believable is a German-born Peruvian-Swiss actress whose mother was raised in Alaska. ... With a strangely captivating face and an unprepossessing talent for living in the role, Q'orianka (Kilcher) makes the film come alive every time she is on screen—which is most of the time. When she is out of the picture, and we see tentative scenes of power struggle in Hawaii or life in Victorian England, the obviously amateur extras come near to bringing it all down (and) the film's uneven quality comes to the fore.”; — Janos Gereben, EInsider