This article was corrected on May 5, 2002.
Kiwi producer Robin Scholes scored big internationally with “Once Were Warriors.” Her new outing is more upbeat and not as grueling, though equally well mounted and with engaging performances. Fest prospects are bright, while commercial possibilities abound with the right critical and marketing support. With mostly English dialogue (a few lines in Maori and Croatian are translated), pic has a contemporary feel, mixing the familiar and the exotic, that might allow for breakout beyond the arthouse circuit.
Plot summary reads like a melange of the day’s headlines, touching on everything from the fighting in Bosnia to racial tensions, immigration, sex, drugs and family conflict. Ivan (Rade Serbedzija), a proud Croat, has been able to flee his homeland with his family thanks to his wife’s being a native New Zealander. Once in Auckland he sets up a drug-smuggling operation to keep the family going while he brings over more relatives.
His daughter Nina (the comely Aleksandra Vujcic) has a rebellious side that has gotten her a job outside the family business as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant. There she meets the similarly rebellious Eddie (Julian Arahanga), a Maori who has left his hometown for the big city. Complicating matters is Nina’s promise to marry Wu (Yang Li), sweetheart of her co-worker Clara (Jing Zhao), so that he can establish citizenship. Wu and Clara are trying to have a “little Kiwi,” but marriage to Nina seems more of a sure thing.
As Nina and Eddie try to work out their problems, they must deal with the thuggish Ivan, who resolves family problems such as his adult daughter’s pregnancy with a baseball bat.
Where “Once Were Warriors” proved rough sledding for some viewers unfamiliar with Maori culture, the culture clash of “Broken English” should be recognizable to viewers throughout the U.S.
Cast is first-rate, with Vujcic and Arahanga engaging as the young lovers, and Serbedzija letting the menace simmer below the surface for long stretches before the inevitable explosion. Story plays out smartly over a tight 92 minutes , with director Gregor Nicholas keeping the action moving at a steady clip, whether in a passionate love scene, an aquatic interlude with dolphins or the final showdown. Tech credits are also a plus.