11 Mar 2020

Review: The Legend of Baron To'A

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 11 March 2020

The Legend of Baron To'A is a comedy about a Tongan man returning home and trying to live up to the legacy of his late wrestling-star father.

Simon Morris: The Legend of Baron To'A is aimed so firmly at a Pasifika audience that it opens with an apology to older family members for the mild swearing in the film.

In this story, the fictitious Baron To'A is not only a hero in the larger-than-life world of the wrestling ring, he takes his mana back into the neighbourhood where he lived.

But the Baron dies young, and his son Fritz takes off to Australia, where he becomes hugely successful as a computer software designer.

Fritz returns home one day, to visit his uncle Otto and sell the family home before returning to Sydney.

The lively cast is rather impressive. Uli Latu-kefu as Fritz is tall, handsome and dripping with movie-star charisma. Nathaniel Lees, as Uncle Otto, provides the gravitas and acting chops you'd expect.

And another acting veteran Jay Laga'aia plays the seemingly good neighbour George.

Fritz's homecoming is sullied by the fact that nothing is quite how he remembers it. Now that the Baron is no longer around to keep the peace, the place has been overrun by punks and gangsters - notably the notorious Pig Hunters gang.

And they make no bones about their contempt for the Baron's unworthy offspring.

The final insult is when the Pig Hunters break into Uncle Otto's house and steal his prize possession - Baron To'A's wrestling championship belt.

Otto looks at Fritz. Someone has to recover the family heirloom and honour.

The Legend of Baron To'A may not be a tale as old as time, but it's certainly as old as any movie whose title begins with the words "Son Of…" or ends with the words "Rides Again".

And director Kiel McNaughton knows what he's doing. There may be touches of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and dollops of Rocky in this, but it couldn't be more South Auckland.

Kiel McNaughton co-produced the ambitious feature films Waru and Vai, but more important to Baron To'A, he cut his teeth directing the sharp comedy of TV series Auckland Daze.

Yes, the script here is occasionally a little over-egged - all the dialogue smacks a little too much of film school - but it's funny, it's sharp, the characters are engaging and it's got heart.

And judging by how long it's been playing in suburban cinemas, it's got legs too.

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