Sunday, May 16, 2010

Movie Review: Princess Ka'iulani

The correct name of the Princess contains the 'okina or the glottal stop which is treated like a character within the Hawaiian language. For the Princess' name, it is between the a and the i. I don't have the correct font to do the Hawaiian language so for the rest of the review I won't be using any of the formal Hawaiian spellings for this formal Hawaiian picture. Why am I making this disclaimer? Because when the movie was shown at the Hawaii International Film Festival last year it was titled The Barbarian Princess and there was a big uproar within the Hawaiian community and I don't want that same uproar over my review for not having formal spellings of the Hawaiian names or places.

The movie Princess Kaiulani is not a documentary, but it attempts to convey some of the history of Hawaii's change from a Kingdom with its own sovereign rulers to that of an annexed property of the United States of America while focusing on the young ruler. Most Americans don't know about Hawaii's history like how the missionary families gained power in the islands or what led up to Hawaii being the last state admitted to the Union. Just last year we celebrated our 50th anniversary of the admission. I use the term "we" loosely as there were some people who protested what happened. Ultimately, President Clinton signed an apology resolution in 1993 for the part that the US government played in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893.

In the movie, Princess Kaiulani (Q'orianka Kilcher) traveled from England to Washington DC after the overthrow of the Monarchy to talk to President Grover Cleveland. The problem was she had to do it as a citizen and not a princess. She made an explanation to the President involving salt, pepper and cumin. It was a brilliant way to explain the situation to an outsider.

What I found great about the movie is that they used the actual Iolani Palace here in Honolulu for the movie. I've been into the palace a number of times on Kaamaina Sunday where residents are allowed to take the tour for free. The floors are made of Douglas fir so you're required to wear these booties, kinda like surgical booties over your personal footwear to protect the floors.

They have some of the furniture that was in the Palace at the time of the overthrow and they have attempted to give you a feeling of what it would be like in the palace. The last part of the tour is the Throne Room where they describe how the windows would be open allowing people to walk in and out to the lanai or patio and the overall atmosphere during a royal gathering. To even see actors in period costumes on the screen brought a whole new meaning to me of the palace. There were a number of other exciting shots were shown in the movie including the room where Queen Likiuokalani was imprisoned where you can go during a palace tour, but also the Chamberlain's Office in the basement that you can't enter but just view through a Plexiglas door or Kaiulani walking up the grand staircase from the first to the second floor which you are NOT allowed to do at all.

The costumes for the movie were magnificent. I was reading where Kilcher had 20 some odd pieces that were made for the movie. Apparently many of the costumes were made not only to look like the designs of the time but also the material itself was that of the last decade of the 19th century. The one part that would make for a hard time would be the corsets. They were part of the time and were part of the requirements to be the foundation of the dresses. Several pieces of jewelry were reproduced to form the complete package to showcasing the style of the time. If you visit the basement gallery at the palace on display are the Crown Jewels of the Kingdom of Hawaii where you can see actual pieces worn by Hawaiian Royalty.

Something that non Hawaii audiences will be exposed to is some of the culture like the language and hula. Most people know hula as the smooth swaying of the hips called auwana but it didn't start out that way. Kahiko is the older style with strong forceful movements done to chants in Hawaiian olelo or language. Kahiko is generally not shown when there are tv specials coming from the islands. Audiences will experience the olelo both in chant and as conversational language. There is a beautiful scene while the princess walking on the beach, she's presented with a haku or woven lei with an accompanying chant. What was once a dying language has been making a come back. I'm glad this exposure is showcasing what a beautiful and lyrical language Hawaiian is.

The one part of the movie that didn't completely work for me were some of the transitions between segments of the movie. This wasn't the cinematic transitions with fades or wipes, but the abruptness of jumps between locations or situations. If there would be one recommended change, it would be smooth out some of those jumps.

Something that I do find of interest is about the choice of Kilcher as the Princess. A number of people complained about the original title. When it was suggested that Duane "The Rock" Johnson play Kamehameha the Great there were rumblings over a Samoan playing a Hawaiian. Disney is building a resort on Oahu and the Hawaiian community is saying they better get it right with their depiction of Hawaii. Yet strangely enough, I don't remember hearing anything about a non-Hawaiian playing the Hawaiian alii or royalty.

Audiences at the Hawaii International Film Festival sold out five showings of this movie as well as awarding it the Audience Award. It brings to people a great period piece shining a light on an undeserved portion of Hawaiian and American history while spotlighting Princess Kaiulani. If you can find this film at your local theater, I highly recommend checking it out. It is rated PG for some sensuality, brief language, smoking, thematic material and some violence and has a run time of one hour and 37 minutes.