By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Available to watch in the continental United States via LAAPFF till Oct 31st.
The animated short, Kapaemahu, is a contender for the Academy Awards and I can easily see why after seeing it as part of the 36th annual month-long Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It played at Tribeca, and if you love the power of myth as I do, this mystical work is worth seeking out. Not only is Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s work an alluring mystical retelling of the origins of the healing stones located in Waikiki Beach, but also it recounts the history of Hawaii quite well.
It’s almost easy to forget the conflict when the Europeans came in to colonize this paradise in the latter acts. Instead, part of this work’s charm is in how four tall and mysterious figures helped do more than bring together the natives from the region. They are transgender and recognized as benevolent beings. Their arrival is compared to the Europeans, and that’s where we get an excellent look at how this island nation’s civilization changed over time. As with Canada now respecting the nations that first occupied this land before any event, we are shown where we all came from.
Kapaemahu is the leader and simply wanted peace. Together, with Kinohi, Kahaloa and Kapuni, they worked with the people from these islands and did a better job at uniting the various tribes. These were gentle strangers, and perhaps what’s unique about them is that they were transgender. There’s nothing wrong with them and the spirituality they brought to the islands. They are highly respected healers, and some locals worshipped them as gods. As for the White Man, this film doesn’t hold back saying what they brought. This story also shows how time heals all, which is a very positive message.
The art style is simply fantastic. The sepia tones evoke a dream-like quality to contrast the past to the present. As the tale shifts from a quiet watcher to that of a child being told of his heritage, I firmly believe what’s presented here is a far better tale than Disney’s Moana. Both are terrific in its regard of what Polynesian culture represents, but if I had to choose which is more respectful in its production, it’s with Won-Kalu’s work!
5 Stars out of 5