Reviewed by Alicia Glass
The story of a small 19th century colony of Native Hawaiians who refuse to accept government-mandated exile when leprosy breaks out amongst their people and home.
Imagine it. You’re a Native Hawai’ian, having lived in and loved the islands your whole life, content with your family and the bountiful giving land, a happy subject of the Hawai’ian kingdom under Queen Lili’uokalani. Then suddenly in 1893 (when the film is set) the monarchy is overthrown, the Hawai’ian islands and its peoples are now subject to forced colonization from foreign white invaders, bringing with them diseases endemic to elsewhere in the world but that the Natives have no immunological resistances to. Amongst these is outbreaks of leprosy, and the infected Natives are being forced to relocate to what is effectively now the prison-plague island of Moloka’i. This has already happened as the film begins, which is why our brave main couple Ko’oalu (Jason Scott Lee) and his wife Pi’ilani (Lindsay Marie Anuhea Watson) are trying to keep hidden the fact that their son Kalei (Kahiau Perreia) has contracted the deadly disease, along with his father.
History happens to be full of instances of foreigners who are absolutely certain they know best for the supposed “lesser races” of the newly-conquered, and here is yet another glaring instance of just that. No one wants to be forced from their homes by some meddling supposed do-gooders, though the jackass of a Sheriff Stoltz (Matt Corboy) and his cronies who first go out to arrest Ko’oalu are far from altruistic. After several murderous confrontations, the ino loa of a Sheriff is dead and Ko’oalu and his family are forced to flee to other places on the island where other Natives, most of them afflicted by leprosy too, are hiding, to try and stage some kind of resistance.
It always amazes me when, in telling these historically-based accounts of famous historical personages, things like “home-field advantage” is never taken into account in warfare. Because, make no mistake, Ko’oalu and Pi’ilani and all their people are now in a war, a battle for the freedom and survival of the Hawai’ian people against their oppressors. The supposed Civil war hero McCabe (Henry Ian Cusick) has arrived on the island with a band of mercenaries, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re insistent on bringing as much firepower as McCabe can manage – we’re talking cannons. Weapons of war and destruction that have to be hauled up and down the many hills and mountains of the islands via backbreaking physical effort and suspect pulleys, these are game-changers as far as the Natives are concerned.
Obviously with the advent of the cannons, the battle for freedom has gone from a dogfight between strangers to some very personal flat-out executions. Especially after a few minor skirmishes with McCabe, in which Ko’oalu is like a Nightmarcher, a vengeful spirit of the islands himself, defiant and gloriously alive despite all McCabe has done to thwart this. And in yet another huge mistaken assumption that Pi’ilani is just another weeping wahine who needs her husband to defend her, these arrogant white men learn to their everlasting sorrow that Pi’ilani is a perfectly capable wahine koa (warrior woman) in her own right. Matter of fact, Pi’ilani is actually a better shot with a rifle than more than half the mercenaries McCabe brought, a surprise that infuriates McCabe.
Based on the actual real life legend of the small family of cowboy Ko’oalu, his capable wife Pi’ilani and their dear child Kaleimanu, and the true survivor account from the one person who was actually there, Pi’ilani herself, who survived the whole sorry mess and went on to write an epic poem about the whole experience (and have it published in the original Hawaiian in 1906), The Wind and the Reckoning features beautiful scenery of course filmed in the Hawaiian islands, stellar performances from every single last actor, and presents an epic tale of defiance in the face of impossible odds!