Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Wind & the Reckoning: A Hawaiian Western

Did make sense for the post-monarchy Hawaiian government to quarantine indigenous leprosy patients at the colony on Molokai, despite the disease’s low level of transmission? Before you answer, review your positions on Covid mandates and lockdowns. In light of the last three years, it is illuminating to revisit the Leper War of 1893. Ko’olau, the Hawaiian cowboy previously immortalized by Jack London, fights for his family and his way of life in David L. Cunningham’s The Wind & the Reckoning, which opens this Friday in New York.

Both Ko’olau and his son Kaleimanu have contracted the disease, but not his wife Pi’ilani. Unfortunately, she would not be permitted to accompany her husband and son to the colony, where all marriages are declared void on arrival. It is clear Sheriff Stoltz and his lowlife deputies consider this a side-benefit to the quarantine policy when they arrive for Ko’olau and Kaleimanu, because Pi’ilani is quite pretty. However, neither Ko’olau or his Yankee “Uncle” Eben Sinclair will submit, but their violent resistance makes the father, mother, and son fugitives.

A party of soldiers follow Ko’olau into Kalalau Valley, along with Marshal Edward G. Hitchcock, a holdover from the days of the Kingdom, who has little enthusiasm or stomach for the man hunt. According to the historical record, they were also accompanied by a Board of Health rep, but that character was dropped for the film (perhaps out of fears of potential Fauci-esque echoes).

Wind & Reckoning is inescapably timely. Throughout the film, viewers should ask themselves is this all about health or control—and which outbreak are we talking about? Sadly, health crises are often used as an excuse to curtail civil liberties. Cunningham and screenwriter John Fusco clearly argue that was the case in Kalalau.

It is also a solidly executed revisionist western. Jason Scott Lee (from
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Rapa Nui) is a credible strong, silently steely rifleman. Likewise, Lindsay Marie Anuhea Watson is fiercely protective and keenly sensitive as Pi’ilani. Arguably, Johnathon Schaech’s portrayal of Marshal Hitchcock makes him the film’s most complex and conflicted character. The late Patrick Gilbert also contributes a lot of heart and poignancy as the profoundly decent Sinclair. Plus, action star Ron Yuan adds his big presence to the film as Lee, the soldiers’ literal howitzer bearer.

Thanks to its post-Covid timing,
W&R might see its ideological reception get flipped, as its critique of imperialism is overshadowed by its outrage over quarantine politics. Frankly, there is some truth to both takeaways, which makes it such a fascinating film for this present moment. That is the thing about zeitgeistiness in films—it sometimes comes out in unintended ways. It is also worth noting it W&R is largely produced in Native Hawaiian, but even under the old rules, it would not have been eligible for the “Foreign Language” (now “International”) Oscar.

Regardless, the Hawaiian landscapes look spectacular and the western-style action is well executed. It is not exactly subtle in making its points, but there is far too much testosterone and gunfire for the professionally outraged, which makes it highly watchable. Recommended as a Hawaiian historical with contemporary significance,
The Wind & the Reckoning opens Friday (5/26) in New York, at the Village East.