I approached " Lychee Thieves" with a heavy load of cultural cinematic baggage, because, for whatever reason, films made in Hawaii never quite ring true.
Either they’re made by outsiders who have been snowed by the touristy "Aloha Spirit" propaganda, or Hawaii is simply used as a cute, colorful backdrop by characters just passing through. Or, even if local people are involved and there’s a genuine desire to share the culture, the films end up so watered down and mutated to appeal to outside audiences that they just seem weird.
Written and directed by Kathleen Kwai Ching Man
Showing as part of the Ohina Short Film Showcase
Like pod people in a sci-fi flick, Hawaii folk never come off as genuine human beings — with depths of feeling and subtle cultural shadings that are obvious to us and opaque to outsiders. Better to invent a wholly fictional Hawaiian milieu, some filmmakers decide, like the sacred breathlessness of "Princess Kaiulani" or the modern big-city crime craziness of "Hawaii Five-0" or the cartoon pidgin of "50 First Dates" or "Byrds of Paradise."
Therefore, I was delighted to find that "Lychee Thieves" is a swell little film with a complex ethos, and beyond that, it’s likely the most accurate depiction of life in Hawaii yet committed to film.
The story revolves around the annual craziness that ensues when lychees ripen and folks start angling to score fruit. Some people have lychee trees, most don’t, and so a certain amount of politicking and negotiable behavior takes place.
No one group comes off well here, but no one really bad either. It’s natural to want some lychee, yeah?
At a half-hour, the length works well. Pomaiki Pomaika’i Brown makes the biggest impression as a bruddah willing to work for lychee, and annoyed that sharing a tree’s bounty is so socially difficult. Some of the smallest roles are perhaps slightly overacted, but that’s a manini criticism in a short film that has to score points in few scenes.
Filmmaker Kathleen Kwai Ching Man wrote and directed "Lychee Thieves" with restraint and a keen eye for telling detail. For the first time, we get a film that’s the visual equivalent of a short story from the literary journal Manoa.
"Lychee Thieves" is a film you’d show to reveal what life is like in modern Hawaii.
Is it too local? Is it too "local" for outsiders?
That’s their problem.