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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Movie Review - "The Legend of Baron T'oa"


The Legend of Baron T’oa tells the story of a young Tongan man (Fritz – Uli Latukefu) who, having been living in Australia for more than ten years following his father’s death, returns to sell his family home. His Uncle Otto (Nathaniel Lees) is hesitant and we soon learn why; Fritz’s father was local legend and pro wrestling champion, Baron T’oa (John Tui)! As a quick aside, anyone who was a fan of professional wrestling in the 70s and early 80s will remember the portrayal of “Islanders” with an image of the Wild Samoans probably coming to mind. But avoiding that “savage” stereotype while becoming a champion in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, was Peter Maivia. It’s Maivia who the titular Baron T’oa seems to be inspired by. Like Maivia, the character of Baron T’oa was a champion, an “islander”, and died at a fairly young age. Anyway, Fritz doesn’t seem to care his father’s “legend”, though. He’s too concerned with being rational 
and analytical about the sale and is certain he can talk Otto into signing the required paperwork to finalize the deal. Things take a turn, however, when a family heirloom is stolen: Baron To’a’s championship title belt! Otto refuses to sign until Fritz can recover the belt. The following 90 minutes or so tells an engaging, exciting, and sometimes humorous tale of how Fritz must learn, as his uncle tells him, that without the past there is no “now”, and with no “now”, there is no future.

At it’s core the story (based on a screenplay by John Argall), is nothing new – it’s a typical hero’s journey – but the setting, cultural influences, and acting are what set this apart from many other similar films despite it relying on the expected tropes of such a movie, including a training montage. The characters are enjoyable and clearly positioned as good, bad, and uncertain and are all portrayed exceptionally by a very talented cast that is a mix of seasoned vets (familiar, most likely, to Australian and New Zealand audiences), and newcomers. There are a few small bumps in the road (there’s a fumbled clear passage of time early on that is pretty important to the story, an element that looks to be very important at some point is summarily forgotten, to name a couple), but they’re certainly not deal-breakers and can be chalked up to this being director Kiel McNaughton’s first feature film. Otherwise, the story flows quite well with great framing and character blocking, as well as action scenes that are fast and exceptionally choreographed. There’s a foot chase that is very high energy and the fights are very well done.

Most importantly, though, is the story itself. As Fritz progresses we see how important family can be as well as the parallels between himself and others and on display is how easy it is for people to become two sides of the same coin while traveling nearly identical paths. On one hand, Fritz wants nothing more than to lead his own life and break free from the cul-de-sac that seems to be more of a dead-end road ever since his father died. On the other, there is a sense of purpose and obligation. Fritz’s inner-turmoil of these two things are presented cleverly by his use of a white board marker that he uses to make charts, graphs, and lists with on windows. Brain or heart – which should lead. Or maybe there’s a way BOTH can be in control.

The language is a bit harsh at times and could be off-putting to some people. In fact, the actors preemptively apologize for it in a very brief PSA prior to the start of the film. It should be noted, however, that we’re not talking about language like you’d hear in a Tarantino film (mainly used as interjections and not adjectives or nouns, if you follow), but it could be enough for some parents to click stop during playback. The violence consists of fight scenes that are mostly “cartoony” with very little blood, including one injury that could have been shown to be FAR worse than it is here.

All in all this is a very fun film with a well told story of a hero’s journey with some exciting action, a positive message, and is definitely well worth a watch.

Reviewed by Mike Imboden

The Legend of Baron T'oa
Directed by: Kiel McNaughton
Written by: John Argall
Producer by: Owen Black, Kerry Warkia
Genre: Comedy, Action
Starring: Uli Latukefu, Nathaniel Lees, Jay Laga'aia
Runtime: 1h 43m
Rated: TV-MA
Release Date (Streaming): Nov 11, 2020

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