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Guy’s World: Enter The Tongan

If Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a sumptuous Chinese Peking Duck banquet, Tongan Ninja, a yet to be released budget Kung Fu/Pacifika kitsch satire filmed in Wellington, is the choose-any-3-for-$5 combination pack from a Newtown Chinese takeaway.

This afternoon the Paramount theatre put on a special free preview screening of Tongan Ninja complete with Pacific Island drummers, some Karate guys sparring in the foyer, and a graceful demonstration of Wu Tao martial arts in front of the movie screen.

The idea is to get some advance feedback, so while the audience didn’t have to pay, we were politely requested to fill out a questionnaire that asked questions like:
“Would you pay to see this movie?”
“Would you pay half price to see this movie?”
“Would you watch it if it was on TV and didn’t have to pay?”
“Would we have to pay you to see this movie?”

Quite a crowd had built up around the Paramount doors, demonstrating the power of the word Free. I had to use a special Wu Journalism mind trick to push through the throng, involving wielding my enchanted camera and slipping past the people like wind through a bamboo grove.

Once through, I had a front row posi for the Island drummers, who played really loud (they ought to be wearing industrial ear protection). This music was later echoed in the Tongan Ninja score, interspersed with traditional Kung Fu movie music. I wasn’t sure how skilled or controlled the Karate guys who shared the foyer with the drummers were - unnerving when they’re sparring hard just feet away from you.

While the incompleteness of the version of Tongan Ninja today’s preview audience saw could only enhance its cheepnis, this is a film that is never going to win awards for its beautiful cinematography, its sweeping scope or the subtle shadings of its characters. It cracked me up that the questionnaire even bothered to ask about character and story development.

But within its budget constraints, Tongan Ninja delivers plenty of laughs. Mysteriously, considering there is a smattering of Naked Samoans amongst the cast, the film doesn’t go overboard on self-deprecating Pacific Islander humour. It’s there, but Tongan Ninja is more of a satire on the Kung Fu genre than Islanders taking the piss out of themselves. So don’t expect KFC jokes, but do expect deliberately bad voice dubbing, an evil boss, clunky romance, the girl getting kidnapped and a big fight with the main baddie at the end.

Tongan Ninja has a gun man, a knife man (hilariously wielding Wiltshire Stay-Sharp knives with the self sharpeners on his belt) and a nunchaku man, but it is a shame that the fights are really lame. Its satire I know, but lets face it, without those breathtaking fight scenes there’s not a lot to recommend the Kung Fu genre.

One thing Tongan Ninja does do amazingly well is make Wellington locations look like something other than what they are. The Botanical Gardens becomes a some kind of Zen garden, a broom sweeping the gravel rather than a rake grooming the pebbles, the Seatoun gun emplacements become the summit of the evil boss’s fortress, and the memorial on the same hill is the setting for the Final Battle. It’s much more convincing than you’d expect, and adds another layer of humour for Wellingtonians. This is budget film making at its best.

As with the 3-for-$5 combination snack pack, where you can never get three flavours that go together, Tongan Ninja is a bit of a mixed bag and probably not very nutritious. But for greasy Friday night fun it’s worth a punt.


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