‘Waikiki’ shines at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

… center of Hawaii’s tourism was turned into a high-rise hell squeezing dollars … Despite the fact that Kea has two other part-time jobs—as a Hawaiian …
‘Waikiki’ shines at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

Promotional image for Waikiki

America is currently experiencing a historic surge of protests igniting a cultural awakening and racial reckoning. October 12, which has been called “Columbus Day” and is now referred to as Indigenous Peoples Day has come and gone. But in this month, shorts, documentaries, and features by and about the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands are being given their day in the sun as part of the 36th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Since 1983 Visual Communications, a nonprofit organization, has presented LAAPFF, whose mission is “to develop and support the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers and media artists who empower communities and challenge perspectives.” This year. due to the pandemic. the Festival is online.

To be sure, the plethora of pictures presented at LAAPFF are by Asian and Asian-American filmmakers with roots in countries such as the People’s Republic of China, India, etc., with populations that vastly outnumber the peoples of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. Nevertheless, LAAPFF provides a perch for works by and about Oceanic talents and topics in Los Angeles, a global capital of cinema. This is the first in a series of reviews of selections from Hawaii, the Marquesas, Samoa, Aotearoa/New Zealand, etc., at LAAPFF, which reels through October 31.

Waikiki, mon amour

Writer/director Christopher Kahunanana’s feature film debut Waikiki is a sensitively nuanced peek behind the paradise façade paraded before tourists to lure them to come visit Hawaii. It goes far beyond old South Seas cinema’s celluloid stereotypes. Danielle Zalopany depicts Kea, a “local girl” on the skids at Oahu. When the feature opens, Kea is performing with a troupe of hula dancers at a nightclub for tourists with a backdrop of world-famous Diamond Head. The beautiful young Polynesian is alluringly clad in a halter top, sarong, and what are probably plastic leis and flowery crown. They dance to the lovely sonorous song (probably recorded) “Waikiki” by Andy Cummings that extolls the idyllic vision of a bygone era before the center of Hawaii’s tourism was turned into a high-rise hell squeezing dollars out of visitors drawn to Oahu by a heavenly vision:


My whole life is empty without you

I miss that magic about you

Magic beside the sea

Magic of Waikīkī.

Despite the fact that Kea has two other part-time jobs—as a Hawaiian language teacher for children (probably as part of the Aloha State’s laudatory program to teach the Indigenous mother tongue, which has largely vanished from daily discourse due to colonial subjugation) and as a bar girl in a downtown Honolulu (perhaps in Chinatown?) gritty bar—she is homeless, like so many other landless Hawaiians dispossessed in their ancestral homeland.

Despite her beauty, Kea is anything but the carefree, sensuous sarong girl stereotypically depicted by countless Dorothy Lamour types in South Seas Cinema productions shot by “Haole-wood” filmmakers. Kea is a real, three-dimensional human being suffering as one of the wretched of the Earth in an Island stolen from her ancestors who must cope with the vicious vicissitudes of a callous capitalist society.

Apparently mistreated by her partner, brawny Branden (Jason Quinn), Kea seems to have fled her abusive household, where she may have also lived with their child—although like other facets of Waikiki this is unclear, as is the exact nature of her relationship with Branden. Kea is living out of her van, and her efforts to find a new place to live are thwarted by bureaucratic stipulations and paperwork, despite the fact that she actually has the cash on hand for the first month and a deposit required to rent an apartment in incredibly overpriced, hyperinflated Hawaii.

While living on the streets and out of her van, Kea falls in with the woeful Wo (Peter Shinkoda, whose lengthy credits include Daredevil), a homeless man whom, shall we say, she meets by accident. Kea’s misadventures in the harsh high-rise habitat that is much of contemporary Honolulu include having her van towed and her inability to retrieve it, again, due to red tape, thus depriving her of what little shelter she had.

Homelessness is a major problem in Hawaii, where thousands of disenfranchised Hawaiians and locals literally live on the beaches in tents and other makeshift shelters. In scenes that akamai (in-the-know) viewers will find poignant, a traumatized Kea wanders past the statue of a woman and a stately 19th-century building in the American Florentine architectural style. If the viewer is familiar with them, this can evoke a sense of estrangement, of becoming a stranger in one’s own land.

However, ordinary moviegoers outside of Hawaii are unlikely to recognize that the bronze figure on the pedestal is Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch who was overthrown in a coup d’état executed by descendants of American missionaries and merchants, backed by the U.S. military in 1893. The statue is near Iolani Palace, where Liliuokalani had reigned over an independent kingdom before she was toppled in the planters’ putsch depriving Polynesians of their sovereignty and then placed under house arrest in America’s only royal palace by the Washington-backed traitors. Kea also traipses past the 50th State’s volcano-shaped State Capitol building.

These are all poignant symbols for residents and those familiar with Hawaii and its history, but as they are never specifically identified onscreen may go over the heads of many off-island viewers. Thus Waikiki will probably lose much of its intended impact because film fans aren’t mind readers. Movies are often criticized for being too long (are you listening, Marty Scorsese?), but the 82-minute Waikiki is one of those rare productions where a skillfully added 10 minutes or so with the exposition necessary to explain the historical background and context for the general viewer would probably enhance the work. (Of course, that’s easy for a critic to write as he’s not paying any of the costs.) But malihinis (Island neophytes) can pick up some of the nationalist vibe by listening closely to the angry lyrics of the bitter song that plays over the end credits, Brother Noland’s “Look What They’ve Done,” which contrasts sharply with the trope-filled “Waikiki.”

Nevertheless, Kahunanana is clearly an Oceanic auteur brimming with promise. Waikiki plays with time like the French director Alain Resnais, who helmed New Wave classics such as 1959’s experimental Hiroshima Mon Amour. A series of shots flashback to Kea as a child, learning aspects of her Hawaiian heritage from her tutu (grandmother, played by Hawaiian actress Claire Parker Johnson), which serve to show grownup Kea’s alienation from her culture. Interestingly, these scenes are lensed in water, either a stream or the ocean. Kahunanana has a keen eye as there are some exquisite shots of Oahu which, beyond Waikiki, the most overcrowded, crime-ridden, traffic-choked, polluted part of Hawaii, still boasts plenty of splendid scenery. Cinematographer Ryan Myamoto’s camera colorfully captures it all.

Ms. Zalopany is likewise an Islander filled with talent, who bestows dignity and poignancy on her down-on-her-luck character, grappling with the oppression of struggling to survive in a homeland torn from the rightful owners, her ancestors. Ms. Zalopany’s TV and movie credits include Hawaii Five-O and 2016’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, and she appears in the shorts Kālewa and Moloka’i Bound, which are also being screened at this year’s LAAPFF.

Just as I greatly look forward to future films by/with Kahunanana and Ms. Zalopany, it was a delight to see an old friend, the Hawaiian radio/stage/screen stalwart, beloved Kimo Kahoana in a cameo as Uncle Bully (who appears to abandon little Kea in flashbacks). Waikiki credits the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation, Hawaiian language expert Maile Meyer, the Sundance Institute, Native Lab Fellows, and Maori Oscar winner, actor/director/screenwriter Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit).

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival does viewers a great cinematic service by providing a platform to film buffs of the off-the-beaten-path pictures by presenting worthy works like Waikiki. In showing the other side of the South Seas on film, with its Indigenous POV, Waikiki is a step forward in the film genre that began in Honolulu in 1898, when a Thomas Edison camera crew shot scenes of Waikiki and Oahu. Interested viewers can watch Waikikihere. For more information about the film, see here.

LAAPFF’s other Pacific Islander films this year include:

Patutiki: The Guardians of the Marquesan Tattoo; Hinekura; Faces of Oceania; Kama’āina (Child of the Land); Kālewa; Kapaemahu; Liliu; Mo’o!; Moloka’i Bound; Tā Moko—Behind the Tattooed Face; The Moon and the Night; and Toa’ipuapuagā Strength in Suffering.


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

    Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.



    When Top Hotels in Hawaii Plan to Reopen

    Contact a travel advisor to learn more or to book your future stay in Hawaii. Follow TravelPulse.

    With Hawaii set to lift its 14-day visitor quarantine in lieu of a COVID-19 pre-travel testing program on Oct. 15, many of the destination’s hotels and resorts are announcing reopening dates, along with incentives and renovations to welcome guests back.

    At the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, which is tentatively scheduled to reopen on Dec. 15., guests can take advantage of the Dream Away package, offering Hilton Honors members 20 percent off best rates for stays until March 31, 2021. Guests who are not members can save 15 percent off the best rates.

    PHOTO: Hilton Hawaiian Village® Waikiki Beach Resort Alii Tower Exterior Dusk (photo via © 2019 Hilton)
    PHOTO: Hilton Hawaiian Village® Waikiki Beach Resort Alii Tower Exterior Dusk (photo via © 2019 Hilton)

    The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa is set to reopen on Oct. 15 and is offering guests Hyatt’s Work From Home package, which includes standard guestroom or suite accommodations with the option to upgrade, a workspace that’s either a separate, private space or a complimentary second guestroom, daily food and beverage credit and more.

    Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa
    PHOTO: Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. (photo via Hyatt)

    Set for a Dec. 1 reopening, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel on Maui will showcase the results of the first phase of its $75 million renovation. The refurbishment includes a redesign to the Papaku South Wing and Kauhale Southeast Wings, a new beachfront restaurant Huihui and more.

    Kaanapali Beach Hotel
    PHOTO: Kaanapali Beach Hotel. (photo voa Kaanapali Beach Hotel)

    Mauna Beach Resorts’ Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Big Island, slated to reopen on Nov. 1 and Nov. 20, respectively, are offering guests lucrative savings options.

    The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel features a 5th Night Free package, which includes waived resort fees, and a family promotion offering 50 percent discounts on a second room.

    Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
    PHOTO: Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. (photo via Mauna Kea Beach Hotel)

    The Westin Hapuna is offering guests a Westin Hapuna Experience package, which includes 25 percent off a six-night stay plus 25 percent off beach rentals/activities, 25 percent off green fees and a 15 percent discount at the Meridia restaurant.

    The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort
    PHOTO: The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. (Photo by Scott Laird)

    The Montage Kapalua Bay, which is set to reopen on Oct. 15, unveiled the Spirit of Now package, providing guests with a $100 resort credit per room (up to $300) and a complimentary upgrade at check-in. With the package, deposits are not required at booking time and cancellation fees will be waived up to 48 hours prior to arrival.

    Spa Montage Kapalua Bay
    PHOTO: Spa Montage Kapalua Bay. (photo courtesy of Montage Kapalua Bay)

    The Plantation Inn, an 18-room bed and breakfast located in Maui’s historical Lahaina Town, is scheduled to reopen on Nov. 15. During its closure, the property underwent a light refresh for returning guests.

    The Plantation Inn on Maui
    PHOTO: The Plantation Inn on Maui. (photo via The Plantation Inn)

    The Prince Waikiki, scheduled to reopen on Nov. 1, is offering the Prince Your Way promotion, which features extended check-in and check-out times of 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.; Book Now, Stay Later packages with 20 to 30 percent savings for bookings made 60 or 120 days in advance; and a Mini Matrimonies micro-wedding package featuring a ceremony on the resort’s Muliwai Deck with socially distanced seating for 24 guests and more.

    Prince Waikiki
    PHOTO: Prince Waikiki. (photo via Prince Waikiki)

    Maui’s Wailea Beach Resort, which is set to welcome guests again on Nov. 1, is offering guests savings of 20 percent off stays of five nights or more and a complimentary quilting community activity. Quilts will be donated to local kapuna (elders) on the island. The property also unveiled a Work Anywhere Play Pass, which includes Sundeck accommodations, free Wi-Fi, supervised kids activities, curated experiences, business concierge, 20 percent off cabana rentals and more.

    Wailea Beach Resort infinity pool
    PHOTO: The infinity pool at the Wailea Beach Resort. (photo via Wailea Beach Resort)

    Contact a travel advisor to learn more or to book your future stay in Hawaii.

    Hawaii Tourism will not reopen as planned on October 15

    There are more problems for Hawaii’s travel and tourism industry, and there are problems between the mayors and the Governor. Only the Island of …

    There are more problems in paradise. There are more problems for Hawaii’s travel and tourism industry, and there are problems between the mayors and the Governor.

    Only the Island of Oahu with Honolulu and Waikiki may reopen for tourism arrivals after October 15 as originally planned and ordered by Hawaii Governor Ige.

    The Aloha State of Hawaii was planning to welcome visitors from the U.S. mainland without the requirement of a mandatory 14-day quarantine if a passenger provides a COVID-19 negative test done within 72 hours prior to arrival. Airlines had been getting ready to transport again visitors to Hawaii. United Airlines said such a test can be done hours prior to departure at San Francisco Airport for a $250.00 fee or prior by mail.

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell had told eTurboNews on September 15 he prefers second testing after arrival but confirmed today that O‘ahu plans to participate in the State’s pre-travel testing program. Mayor Caldwell maintains a two test program would be preferable to the current option, but also understands the current restrictions on testing capacity.

    Kauai Mayor Mayor Kawakami made this statement:

    “We have not yet made a determination. Decisions must be deliberate and we can’t commit to plans we don’t fully understand. Our goal from the beginning has been to supplement the Governor and Lt. Governor’s statewide travel plan. The option to opt-out is a recent development. As we understand it, our proposal was denied in part because the state aimed for consistency across the board, so visitors would not be confused. How does the option to opt-out achieve that goal? If each county were to opt-out, where does that leave the statewide travel plan? We need more details on what an “opt-out” means for the counties, and whether that provides the option for us to implement a single-test post-arrival program.

    “If we were to remain in the program, the Lt. Governor has committed to implementing enhanced testing, such as a surveillance testing program, and we look forward to hearing details on how that will be implemented on October 15.

    “Our goal is not to extend a mandatory 14-day quarantine in perpetuity. Our goal is to keep our community safe while we take a phased, responsible approach to reopening. We believed we could do that by offering an enhanced second-test program.”

    Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim said yesterday, he was opting out for the state’s pre-travel program starting October 15. It means anyone visiting Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island of Hawaii will be required to quarantine for 14 days regardless.

    eTurboNews reached out to Maui’s mayor Mike Victorino. A spokesperson for Mayor Mike Victorino said the mayor had not made a decision yet. Maui County also includes the Island of Molokai and Lanai.

    In summary, as of now only the Island of Oahu with Waikiki Beach are a 100% reopening for visitors.