Hawaiians The (1970)
Based on the James Michener novel Hawaii this sequel (to Hawaii (1966)) received a Best Costume Design Oscar nomination. It follows the life of ‘Whip’ Hoxworth played by Charlton Heston and those he comes in contact with through many years on the islands before they became our 50th state including the introduction of the telephone and early automobile. Directed by Tom Gries with a screenplay by James R. Webb (How the West Was Won (1962)) it features breathtaking views of land and sea including those of sea-worthy sailing ships.
It begins with Whip captaining a ship transporting Chinese workers to the islands for cheap labor. One of these is Mun Ki (Mako) who saves a woman Char Nyuk Tsin (Tina Chen) from being sold into prostitution by claiming she’s his wife when they arrive. Whip hires them as cook & servant and takes them to his luxurious home where he’s reunited with his wife Purity (Geraldine Chaplin). I haven’t read the book but I will say that the film skips forward 2-3 years at a time or more many times as the story takes place over several decades.
The first “segment” of the film establishes the relationships between the two “man and wife” combinations. Mun Ki is in fact already married to a woman in China and as the resident Chinese Wise Man/Lawmaker Foo Sen (Keye Luke) explains to Char Nyuk Tsin all the children she bears for him will be regarded as his wife’s whereas she will be known to them as their “auntie”. However there relationship is one of true love he teaching her how to speak pigeon English since their native Chinese dialects are incompatible. Chen gives the performance of the film one which inexplicably went unrecognized by the Academy in what was IMO a weak year for Best Actresses (e.g. given those that were nominated). She accepts her role and eventually gives birth to four sons (instead of the five he’d wanted named for each continent per Foo Sen) and one daughter. Her character is also transformed from one which she herself initially claims is “not smart” relative to her “husband” to a very strong (even progressive) female & minority role model businesswoman and leader. During this time she demonstrates her deep commitment to Mun Ki by choosing to go with him to the leper colony with no hope of return on Molokai when he contracts the disease.
Whip is married to a one-fourth native Hawaiian who after bearing him a son herself becomes withdrawn and eventually somewhat crazy as she immerses herself in the “dying” native culture and ultimately leaves him. He is shocked to learn when he returns from the sea that his grandfather and benefactor has died and left him nothing but thousands of seemingly useless acres of land in lieu of the command of the family shipping fleet he covets. His wealthy missionary family led by his cousin Micah (Alec McCowan) has control of the assets and offer to give him “his” ship if the “black sheep of the family” would leave and never return. He refuses and hires a drunkard well digger (Don Knight) who finally finds fresh water on the property which enables Whip to eventually become a rich pineapple plantation owner.
Whip becomes a man who believes he can do anything he wants which he does by taking bigger and bolder risks throughout the story. He takes his son Noel back from his estranged wife and “raises” him until the 15 year old departs for his “real” education on the sea just like his father did. Whip commits several illegal acts including ones which enable him to introduce pineapple growing to the islands. Noel is played by various different actors as he ages but only really figures prominently in the film’s last and weakest part (when John Phillip Law plays the role). Separated from his wife for years Whip also sets up a Japanese concubine (Miko Mayama). The last part of the film is more about the political evolution of the island (involving Whip Micah and Queen Liliuokalani played by Naomi Stevens) towards annexation by the U.S. and isn’t nearly as compelling as the first 90 minutes. It also includes a too contrived romance for Noel upon his return.