The first English-language feature from Los Angeles-based Chinese director Sherwood Hu, "Lani Loa: The Passage" tosses together Hawaiian exotica, Hong Kong--style gangster action and otherworldly elements involving the vengeful specter of a murdered bride that seem lifted straight out of Tsui Hark's "Chinese Ghost Story" series. Production values and physical direction are sharp enough on this energetic fantasy thriller, but its risible plot and lifeless performances from an uncharismatic cast look more likely to steer it to video than into theaters.

The first English-language feature from Los Angeles-based Chinese director Sherwood Hu, “Lani Loa: The Passage” tosses together Hawaiian exotica, Hong Kong–style gangster action and otherworldly elements involving the vengeful specter of a murdered bride that seem lifted straight out of Tsui Hark’s “Chinese Ghost Story” series. Production values and physical direction are sharp enough on this energetic fantasy thriller, but its risible plot and lifeless performances from an uncharismatic cast look more likely to steer it to video than into theaters.

Opening intercuts parallel preparations, on one hand for the wedding of local cop Turner (Angus MacFadyen) and his native Hawaiian bride, Jenny (Carlotta Chang), and on the other for a bank robbery by a carload of mobsters led by ultraslick Bong (Chris Tashima). En route to his nuptials, Turner stops in at the bank and unwisely intervenes in the robbery. A car chase ensues, during which Turner pursues the criminals out of town to the farmland where the wedding is to take place. The ceremonial altar becomes a bloodbath, with Jenny brutalized, almost raped and finally mowed down along with most of the guests.

Director Hu (“Warrior Lanling”) executes the frenetic introductory action with plenty of muscle, but it’s in the quieter aftermath that the clunky script becomes a burden. Concerned for his emotionally distraught friend, police captain Kenny (Ray Bumatai) encourages Turner to take a vacation and grieve, but his need for revenge drives him to continue investigating.

Jenny begins appearing in his dreams, eliminating the gangsters one by one as part of a cleanup operation before moving on to the next world. But when the bodies turn up in the light of day, suspicion falls on Turner, prompting a confrontation with Bong and his gang, during which Jenny steps in to protect her lover.

Scripter (and producer) John P. Marsh attempts to add some kind of sociopolitical subtext through the gangsters’ Robin Hood–like mission to rob from mainland American banks and return Hawaii to the Hawaiians, beefing up tension through Kenny’s divided loyalties to Turner and to his cousin Bong. But this is fairly standard revenge-thriller material despite the exotic setting and the magical elements running through it.

Shot partly in mainland China for budgetary concerns, the crisply lensed pic seamlessly integrates this footage with its heavy dose of picturesque Hawaiian landscapes. Effects work is familiar but functional as Jenny’s ghost kicks into flame-shooting, spear-tossing banshee mode. Cast is uniformly flat, doing little to pump life into the lackluster dialogue.

Lani Loa: The Passage

(FANTASY THRILLER)

Production

A Francis Ford Coppola/Wayne Wang presentation of a Chrome Dragon Films production. (International sales: Le Studio Canal Plus, Paris.) Produced by John P. Marsh, Sherwood Hu. Executive producers, Tom Luddy, Fred Fuchs. Co-producers, Lulu Zezza, Julie Huntsinger. Directed by Sherwood Hu. Screenplay, John P. Marsh. Camera (Foto-Kem color), Hou Yong; editor, Nicholas C. Smith; music, Frank Fitzpatrick; production designer, James Newport; art director, Shen Huizhong; sound (Dolby), Xu Hong, Coleman Metts; sound designer, Leonard Marcel; assistant director, Wang Changfu; casting, Tom McSweeney. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Open Zone), Sept. 25, 1998. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Turner ..... Angus MacFadyen Jenny ..... Carlotta Chang Kenny ..... Ray Bumatai Bong ..... Chris Tashima

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