Yearly FilmFest Spotlighting South Seas Cinema Returns: The Wind & the Reckoning

The 39th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is taking place May 4-13 at a variety of mostly Downtown LA venues (see: LAAPFF is arguably America’s main gateway for Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander productions to gain access to the U.S. movie market and in particular, LA, the world’s capital of cinema. The yearly filmfest is presented by Visual Communications, an LA-based media organization whose “mission is to develop and support the voices of Asian American & Pacific Islander filmmakers and media artists who empower communities and challenge perspectives. Founded in 1970 with the understanding that media and the arts are powerful forms of storytelling, Visual Communications creates cross cultural connections between peoples and generations.”

As a film historian/critic who has co-authored three movie/TV history books, including The Hawaii Movie and Television Book, about South Seas Cinema – screen productions by and about the Indigenous peoples of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia and their islands – my focus in covering LAAPFF are the new works by Pacific Islanders. I eagerly awaited the opportunity to view David Cunningham’s latest feature, the 92-minute The Wind & the Reckoning, which is being screened at LAAPFF on May 11.

The Wind & the Reckoning is based on a true story about a Native Hawaiian named Ko’olau (Jason Scott Lee) who contracts leprosy and resists authorities by refusing to be shipped out to and quarantined at the infamous “Lepers’ Colony” in Molokai. Ko’olau hides out with his wife Pi’ilani (Kula, Hawaii-born Lindsay Watson of 2021’s Finding Ohana) and their son Kaleimanu (Kahiau Perreira). According to the movie, as Pi’ilani – unlike her husband and son – has not contracted Hansen’s Disease or leprosy, she will not be allowed to join them at remote Kalaupapa, Molokai as a “kokua,” or kind helper.

In the movie, this is the reason why the family goes into hiding, to avoid being broken up. According to the film, before Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown (in 1893 by white planters acting in league with the U.S. military), kokuas had been allowed to accompany individuals stricken by Hansen’s Disease, but this rule was changed by the Republic of Hawaii’s government led by President Sanford B. Dole.

I’m not an expert on the Ko’olau saga, but it seems that screenwriter John Fusco fudged the timeline. In addition, except for some clearly recognizable shots of exquisite Molokai, The Wind & the Reckoning was made on the Big Island of Hawaii, although the actual search for Koolau historically took place on the island of Kauai. The script is influenced by Pi’ilani’s own memoirs.

In any case, the scenery is beautiful with sumptuous cinematography by Scott Lee Mason. There is lots of exciting, skillfully shot gunplay. The best thing about The Wind & the Reckoning is the opportunity to see Jason Scott Lee back on the big screen in a lead role. In 1993 Lee burst onto the screen as the title character in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, followed by the 1994 Easter Island-set Rapa Nui. Still looking good, Lee is great as Ko’olau, and the movie is a metaphor for the struggle of Indigenous people against colonial domination.

Ko’olau’s nemesis is the merciless military officer McCabe, a haole (white) Civil War veteran who is hot on his trail, portrayed by the Peruvian actor Henry Ian Cusick (of TV’s Lost series). As Marshal Hitchcock, Jonathan Schaech is also part of the manhunt, but as a local lawman he is more conflicted about pursuing the Hawaiians.

Some scenes in The Wind & the Reckoning ooze earnestness. And there is too much squabbling and yelling between characters who are supposed to be on the same side. Koolau has conflicts with his wife and son; the Marshal and soldier clash too much, too. But these are mere quibbles; overall I enjoyed The Wind & the Reckoning, a period piece which is especially commendable as it is shot largely in the Hawaiian language (with English subtitles) on location in Big Island.

Cunningham is a force to be reckoned with in Hawaii filmmaking. The son of missionaries, he moved to the Big Island when he was four, grew up there and obviously has strong ties to Polynesia. David beat me to far away Pitcairn Island by about 30 years, shooting the 1991 documentary The Pitcairn Story: Mutineers in Paradise. In 1998 Cunningham helmed Beyond Paradise, a contemporary look at race relations, domestic abuse and more at the Big Island, where it was made on location. The WWII epic To End All Wars starring Kiefer Sutherland was set in Burma but shot on Kauai. In 2006 Cunningham lensed two episodes of the controversial mini-series, The Path to 9/11.

For info re: The Wind & the Reckoning see: For ticket info re: The Wind & the Reckoning at LAAPFF see: After the Festival screening The Wind & the Reckoning will be theatrically released in LA on May 12.

For LAAPFF info see:

Aloha oe (a fond farewell) to HARRY BELAFONTE, truly one of the greats.