San Diego Asian Film Festival 2013 presents The Haumana

haumana

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Hula Nation Filmworks

Director: Keo Woolford

Review Rating: 8

After their beloved Hula instructor dies and chooses as her successor a native considered to be a sellout to his own people, the boys of the Royal Hula company struggle to continue the dancing legacy of cultural generations.

It’s not often you find a film so deeply trenched in the cultural history of Hula, and yet firmly grounded in modern concerns, like peer pressure, drugs, and yes, religion. It’s even more rare to find a film about Hula from the male perspective, given that far too many folk think that dancing for men is a sissy or homosexual thing to do, and yes that topic is addressed in a light-hearted way in the movie too. What we have here are teenaged boys, and their reluctant-at-first instructor, who train their little hearts out, dancing and training through pain and misunderstandings, giving it their all and dancing because they want to. The performance as part of the Royal Hula company, while being the focal point of all the dance training, is simply a showcase for the great performance of the Hula all these boys have been practicing so diligently.

Each boy has his own issues after Kumu Hula (Master Hula teacher) Auntie (Marlene Sai) dies and nominates Johnny Kealoha (Tui Asau), considered a sellout to his own people given his lounge-lizard singing act, to lead them in her place. The traditions of Hula clash with modern issues often, like when Kealoha takes the boys into the wilds to collect ferns for their palapalai (traditional lei offerings to the Gods, in this case for Auntie’s spirit), only to be confronted by a gun-wielding man intent on protecting his marijuana plants. One boy is too intent on his girlfriend and his weed consumption to really take the tradition of Hula seriously, and make the strong commitment this sort of thing requires. One boy is too embarrassed to tell his very white adoptive parents, though it turns out he needn’t have worried at all. One boy chooses football as his alternative outlet, unable to let go of Auntie’s death. One boys father believes that the tradition of Hula is far too Pagan, being a very Christian man himself. Which is an interesting thought and honestly one that never occurred to me, but technically the man is right. Kealoha’s response to such concerns are delivered with grace and beautiful understanding. In fact, as the film goes on, Johnny Kealoha embraces his role as instructor, coaxing his boys along while learning himself all over at the same time. The film demonstrates the sheer amount of effort put into training that most people aren’t even aware of, akin to what Ballet performers go through. And of course bartender Kelly Hu is a hilarious help to Kealoha. The boys performance at the Royal Hula showcase is a tribute to all their hard work, the love for the fine ancient tradition of Hula, and the legacy that Auntie left them behind.

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