Five years ago, Lee Tamahori’s “Once Were Warriors,” an ultra-tough film about drunkenness and violence in an urban Maori community, became the top-grossing locally made film in New Zealand and performed strongly in other markets. This sequel, based on author Alan Duff’s 1997 novel, is decidedly not “Warriors 2”; its central themes are different from those in the original pic. A powerful entry in its own right, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” deals with gang warfare among the country’s Maori population — in fact, this story could, with few changes, take place in the ‘hoods of L.A.
The original film starred Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake and Beth Heke, a long-married couple with several children, and dealt with Jake’s excessive drinking and furious temper, which frequently resulted in the bashing of the wife he nevertheless loved.
At the beginning of “Broken Hearted,” Jake and Beth have long since separated , and she’s living with another man. Jake hasn’t been in touch with his surviving children since the separation and, though he has a new girlfriend, Rita (Edna Stirling), he hasn’t stopped hanging out at his favorite bar and regularly drinking himself into a violent stupor.
Jake is involved in yet another mindless fist fight at the very moment his eldest son, Nig (Julian Arahanga), a gang member, is killed in a fight with a rival gang led by Grunt (Lawrence Makoare). Jake goes to the funeral, where he is berated by Beth and another of his boys, Sonny (Clint Eruera), for walking away from his family. He gets drunk again, hits Rita, who throws him out, and finds himself at his lowest ebb.
Sonny, determined to avenge his brother, teams up with Nig’s girlfriend, Tania (Nancy Brunning), and, with his buddy Mookie (Tammy Davis), decides to join the Black Snakes, a gang led by the brutal Apeman (Pete Smith). But Sonny is quickly disgusted when Apeman, exercising his authority, insists Tania have sex with him. Realizing that Apeman will be of no use to them, they decide to mete out vengeance themselves, with expectedly tragic results.
Like “Warriors,” pic deals with the degradation suffered by the once-proud Maori people in contemporary urban New Zealand, and, though not as potent as the earlier film, it impresses with its portrait of a vibrant but deeply divided subculture.
Although Morrison takes a back seat for much of the drama, his imposing presence dominates every scene he’s in, and he succeeds in giving the self-destructive Jake a tragic dimension as he struggles to redeem himself. Owen briefly impresses again as Beth, and there are strong performances from the younger actors, especially Eruera and Brunning.
Director Ian Mune (“Came a Hot Friday”) was a good choice to handle this material, which, although less original and less confrontational than the first film, still works well as a thriller with a resonant social dimension.
The director is aided by the fine cinematography of Allen Guilford, whose camera operator was Alun Bollinger, d.p. on “Heavenly Creatures” and other Kiwi pics. A special nod is due to Inia Taylor, designer of the intricate tattoos worn by members of the rival gangs.