Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Damon Fepulea’i
Stars: John-Paul Foliaki, Dimitrius Schuster-Koloamatangi, Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson, Nathaniel Lees, Tevita Finau, Valeti Finau, Onetoto Ikavuka, Lupeti Finau, Ilaisanne Green.
In 2011 the Rugby World Cup Final was played in Wellington in New Zealand, and the Tongan team caused a massive upset by beating the highly favoured French team 19-14. But there was another great story to come out of that time as well, and it provided the inspiration for this quirky, feel good and thoroughly entertaining underdog comedy. This enjoyable and heartwarming film has been produced under the auspices of Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, etc), who injected generous doses of humour into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his take on Thor: Ragnarok.
New Zealand has a large Tongan population and they prepare to celebrate the World Cup in their own unique way. Amongst them is Maka (John-Paul Foliaki), an immature and irresponsible but well-meaning young man and rugby fanatic, whose impetuous actions are constantly letting down his friends and disappointing his family. With excitement building towards the World Cup Final, he overdoes the celebrations by decorating the house of Veni (Dimitrius Schuster-Koloamatangi, from tv series The Panthers, etc) his more mature and grounded best friend, in Tongan colours and flags. He has been trying to raise money through his local church so that he and his friends can watch the match live. But Maka takes a short cut by buying tickets from a less than reputable source in Terrance (Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson), a wannabe gangsta who models himself on Snoop Dogg. The tickets turn out to be forgeries and Maka and his friends are disappointed and are resigned to the fact that they will not get to the game and instead will have to watch it on television. Most of Maka’s schemes to obtain tickets fail miserably.
Then, inspired by a report he sees on television, he hits on the idea of forming a brass band to perform during the pre-game ceremonies and thus scoring free tickets. The only problem is that none of his friends have instruments, let alone knows how to play musical instruments. With just four weeks to prepare, Maka has them rehearsing using plastic bottles and learning to march in unison.
But even as the band come together Maka’s overly enthusiastic approach and selfish actions to shake things up almost jeopardise any chance they have. And when a video of their failed audition goes viral things get worse. The head of the local Tongan community (Nathaniel Lees) steps in and forbids them from continuing for fear that they will embarrass the whole Tongan community. And Maka’s father (Tevita Finau), who is the head of his local Methodist church, is not impressed.
While Red White And Brass is based on a true story, writers Halaifonua Finau and Damon Fepulea’i have taken some liberties for dramatic purposes. But director Fepulea’i, an award-winning director of short film and television making his feature film debut here, demonstrates plenty of passion for the material. He obviously feels warmth for its characters and the film gives audiences some insight into the rich Tongan culture. The dialogue moves smoothly from Tongan language, with subtitles, to English. And during the end credit sequence we get some photographs of the real characters involved juxtaposed next to their fictional counterparts.
Foliaki’s over-the-top, energetic and infectious performance suits his larger than life character perfectly. In her first film role Valeti Finau makes her presence felt as Maka’s no-nonsense mother Elisiva, a formidable character. And most of the cast members here are newcomers, with many actually reprising their roles from the real-life events, which lends a sense of authenticity to the experience.
The film has been beautifully shot on location in Wellington by cinematographer Andrew McGeorge (the tv series Ash Vs Evil Dead, etc).
Red White And Brass is another winner from New Zealand and its film industry that continues to punch above its weight in producing entertaining films that hold mass audience appeal.