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Naked In Nuhaka 3: Kahungunu The Movie

Naked In Nuhaka 3: Kahungunu The Movie

by Leo Koziol,

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 26, 2002: To wrestling fans, he's known simply as "The Rock" but 30-year-old Dave Johnson is making his way from the wrestling ring to the silver screen. Today, The Rock continued this success by signing on to a multi-studio project based on the life of legendary New Zealand (NZ) Maori chief Kahungunu. The film, titled “Kahungunu: An Epic of Great Proportions”, has been described by Variety as being a "Polynesian Braveheart," with Kahungunu, a warrior, lover, and soldier-statesman, pulling the war-oriented society into the modern age.

Kahungunu conquered the tribal-ruled NZ islands between 1585 and 1619 and made himself king. Wrestling star Dave Johnson, aka The Rock, has signed on to play the title character. According to the AP, The Rock’s casting is not entirely without controversy — the professional wrestler is of Samoan and African-American ancestry, and Derek Wolf, a principal with Kia Ora Entertainment, told the AP, "It would be a great taboo for the part of Kahungunu to go to a nationality that was a fierce enemy of the Maori during that time."

Still in the conceptual stage, backers of "Kahungunu: An Epic of Great Proportions” are hoping to make NZ their base for talent scouting. “We have a depth of talent on our shores far beyond our numbers,” stated a spokesperson. “We’re currently scoping the possibility of a joint script between Witi Ihimaera and Andrew Niccol, direction by Lee Tamahori, and the arch-villain role going to either Cliff Curtis or Temuera Morrison”. Weta is being scoped as a possibility for digital effects production, following completion of Lord of the Rings 3 next year.

“We’re also planning casting calls to find a new star for the role of Kahungunu’s wife and lover, Rongomaiwahine,” stated the spokesperson. Rongomaiwahine was Kahungunu’s seventh wife and their romance is legendary amongst the Maori people. “We’re hoping to cast an ancestral member of Kahungunu’s tribe in this role.”

Kia Ora is also planning a Kahungunu flick, which would star a Maori actor in the lead role. This film will be in the Maori language, with funding for English subtitles still pending.

* * * * *

NUHAKA, AOTEAROA NZ, SEPTEMBER 26 2002: What is identity about in Aotearoa NZ at the dawn of a new century? What does it mean to be Maori when Temuera Morrison is vilified as a negative stereotype of Hispanics following his portrayal of Jango Fett in Star Wars Attack of the Clones? When Cliff Curtis gets hassled on the streets of New York for playing the role of a Middle Eastern terrorist in the latest Hollywood flick? And why do Maori only end up playing the bad guys in big budget Hollywood pictures?

We sympathised with Americans post 9-11, but the impact of such earth shaking events were tempered by both time and distance -- our 9-11 was in fact 12-9. We cheered for Queen Elizabeth at her 50th anniversary celebration this year, but equally cheered when Helen Clark showed up in trendy slacks at a Wellington royal luncheon. New Zealand in 2002 finds itself in a "middle space", our children now dwelling in a global info-space, but our institutions still stymied in the notion of New Zealand as a “mother-knows-best” Nanny State.

Derek Fox, chairman of the Maori Television Service (MTS) still in gestation, makes great pains about the “mainstream” New Zealand media and their Maori-bashing of him and MTS at every given opportunity. And I agree with him. But I also think the much greater challenge is raising and informing our Tamariki (youth) in the world of Pokemon, Playstation 2, high-speed Internet access, and quick-cut MTV-style children’s television. Each and every Maori family faces the issue of raising their children in the diaspora of “Jihad” v. “McWorld”, of traditional Maori “Tikanga”(values) v. “modern” western ways.

It spooked me to see 12-year old Maori boy Bailey Junior Kurariki sentenced to prison this year for the senseless murder of pizza delivery man Michael Choy. What spooked me most, was young Bailey Junior’s cherubic resemblance to fellow young Maori boy Daniel Logan... who played child bounty hunter Boba Fett, son of Temuera Morrison's villain character, in this years latest Star Wars installment.

* * * * *

No, "Kahungunu The Movie" is not in production, and is not likely to be so any time soon. The story presented at the start of this week’s column is a “reality slip” out of the myth that is Hollywood, edited out of existing press releases around the proposed Hawaiian epic about King Kamehameha that is indeed reputed to star “The Rock”. The controversy over him being Samoan is true, as is the story that a local Hawaiian production house will also be making a “small” film of the same story, with a native Hawaiian actor. And the “Polynesian Braveheart” pitch is a genuine quote.

I was excited a couple of months ago when I first heard the Kamehameha movie was in production, and it got me thinking about a film about the life of local hero Kahungunu.

I saw some kind of postmodern epic thrown up on to the world’s screens, not just a “Polynesian Braveheart” but a mind-trip of a movie: one part Waterworld (whale riders and retro-tribal sci-fi sets); one part Titanic (the Rongomaiwahine-Kahungunu tryst); one part Scary Movie (a homage to legendary Billy T. James in the side characters); and one part Boogie Nights (based around, well, Kahungunu’s well reputed appendage...). “Watch this ancient tribal culture tongue wag on cell-phones whilst diving for Abalone, upon which our hero Kahungunu rises out of the water with two dozen of these succulent creatures placed in tasteful and appropriate bodily locations.” Living here in Nuhaka, where the real movie played itself out on the waterscapes and landscapes surrounding me, the potential for a film of epic proportions is indeed quite palpable.

But then I thought of the mess of the iwi (tribal) politics. The potential for Hollywood to take a great story and destroy it. About how its the most "dumbed-down" of stories that usually make the most money through the Hollywood machine. About how visionary directors like, say, Kevin Costner, have taken on board such epic traditional stories of indigenous peoples, with the result being films like Rapa Nui...

So maybe I’m not looking forward to seeing Kahungunu The Movie anytime soon, but I will definitely pop out to see Kamehameha when its released, as an anthropological exploration at the very least. This week, I’ve attempted to ask: What does it mean to be Maori in this 21st Century Hollywood age? It’s a question that I find I can’t answer; but it's one that I’m sure time will.

ONLINE RESOURCES Untitled King Kamehameha Project

DISCLAIMER Parts of this article are pure fiction. Any resemblance of people mentioned to real people, now or in the past, is purely coincidental.

PAST COLUMNS Naked in Nuhaka #1

Naked in Nuhaka #2

All content (c) Leo Koziol & Rautaki Group Consultants 2002. The author can be contacted at email:

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