New Zealand’s Maori has quite a rich history of culture and traditions. This film explores the use of traditional Maori martial arts in a very exciting film about redemption and revenge.

A tribal chieftain, Tane, is in dire straits. When Hongiu, Tane’s teenage son, discovers that loyal warrior Wirepa is actually planning a revolution in the name of his father, he is at first met with resistance. However, when Hongi disappears, Wirepa and his most loyal men virtually wipe out the entire tribe, going as far as cutting off Tane’s head as a means of paying tribute to his father. When Hongi discovers what has happened, he becomes determined to get revenge.

Seeking out the spirit of his late grandmother, Hongi enters an area known as the Dead Lands. In order to achieve his quest for revenge, Hongi seeks out a legendary warrior who is known as a demon amongst the lands. At first, the Warrior refuses to help, but under the advice of one of his wives, the Warrior eventually decides to help. When the Warrior is not helping Hongi find members of Wirepa’s clan and offing them, he teaches the young man how to defend and attack with brute force. When the time will come to finally get his revenge, will Hongi be able to stand up to the betrayer Wirepa?

This breakout film from director Toa Fraser, can be best described as a martial arts period film. However, while that usually pertains to Asian martial arts films, for the first time, we are treated to the traditional fighting methods of the Maori. The Maori style is quite brutal with its use of not only hand-to-hand moves, but the use of interesting weapons such as the patu, a weapon that looks like a paddle but is a very dangerous weapon and the pouwhenia, a staff with a point at the end. Kudos goes out to both co-star Jamus Webster, who serves as the film’s Maori martial arts consultant, and Steve McQuillan, who choreographed the film’s frenetic action scenes.

James Rolleston is great as the young Hongi, who goes from a young teen to a powerful warrior through the assistance of the Warrior, who would be his greatest ally. Lawrence Makoare plays the Warrior as a very powerful fighter on the verge of insanity. He acts completely hard-headed towards Hongi for much of the film, but a very emotional scene in the film reveals why the Warrior must have this hard head that has made him overcome the odds and survive on a number of occasions.

On the villain side, we have Te Kohe Tuhaka as the traitorous Wirepa, who from the beginning had only one thing in mind at first: Revenge for his father which he turns into a quest for glory and becoming a legend, not realizing what’s ahead of him. As Rangi, Xavier Horan is more or less not only Wirepa’s most trusted ally, but also a peacekeeper on a number of occasions when internal strife cause Wirepa to be confronted by one or some of his own men. As for veteran New Zealander Rena Owen, she is almost unrecognizable as Hongi’s late grandmother and it is quite a haunting role due to that fact that she is unrecognizable.

Driven by excellent performances and the use of traditional Maori martial arts, The Dead Lands is definitely one to check out. It may be quite bloody, but let’s face it…it is “bloody marvelous” to quote the late “Uncle Benny”.


A General Film Corporation production. Director: Toa Fraser. Producers: Matthew Metcalfe and Glenn Standring. Writer: Glenn Standring. Cinematography: Leon Narbey. Editing: Dan Kirchner.

Cast: James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Xavier Horan, Raukura Turei, George Henare, Rena Owen, Pana Hema Taylor, Calvin Tuteao, Jamus Webster, Bianca Hyslop.