Thursday, October 7, 2010

SDAFF Shorts Spotlight: Lychee Thieves

Does anyone remember the lychee jelly craze several years ago? When I first tried one of those jelly cups, I was in heaven. I didn't even know what a lychee was, but did I care? My Jell-O days were over.

Well, until the FDA decided to ban lychee jellies for being a choking hazard for young children. I was crushed... though I will admit I choked on one once (coughwhenIwas17cough).

At least I didn't choke on a pretzel.

Those fond memories of yummy lychee goodness were almost forgotten, until I saw Lychee Thieves (dir. Kathleen Man). Apparently, lychee is a fruit that only blooms for three weeks of the year, so its rarity combined with its deliciousness make it highly coveted. This short film is about this very topic: Arnie and Ethel, the owners of a lychee tree, grow increasingly paranoid about their lychee getting stolen by Keoki (a Hawaiian fruit picker) and Mrs. Chun (their old Chinese neighbor). The result? A humorous film about one of my favorite fruits of all time!

But as I watched the film more, I realized it was about more than just lychee and the follies of these four characters. It is a very smart, original allegory about the territorial conflict and settler colonialism that has plagued Hawai'i for centuries, and the ethnic relations (and tensions) that resulted and continue today.

Erm... things didn't go too well when Europeans first
arrived in Hawai'i (John Webber's Death of Captain Cook)


Ever since Europeans first arrived in Hawai'i in 1778, European and American missionaries, businessmen, and politicians immigrated to the islands and established the very alien concept of private property. In 1893, the last Hawaiian queen was illegally overthrown by American politicians and marines, then Hawai'i was annexed in 1897 despite mass Native Hawaiian protests and petitions against it. Between the 1880s-1940s, migrant workers from Japan, Puerto Rico, China, the Philippines, and Korea moved to Hawai'i to work on its many plantations. And of course, in 1959, Hawai'i became our 50th state.

Today, Hawai'i is dominated by the tourist industry and the military. It is one of the most diverse states in our country, but ethnic relations are tense to say the least. Native Hawaiians, now only 9% of the total Hawaiian population and experience poverty rates similar to those in Third World countries (thanks, U.S. Census). The racial hierarchies on the plantations that placed whites on top, Japanese workers in the middle, and other groups at the bottom have also impacted ethnic relations in Hawai'i today.

Mrs. Chun and Keoki below the highly contested lychee tree (courtesy of Lychee Thieves)

I apologize if my Hawaiian History 101 made anyone zzz; I hope someone out there at least learned something new. But I assure you that Lychee Thieves won't make you zzz because it relays all of this with subtlety, humor, and symbolism. Top this off with a powerful performance by Pomaika’i Brown (of 50 First Dates fame) as Keoki and beautiful cinematography that captures the essence of O'ahu beyond the exoticized postcard cliches, and you've got yourself an excellent short film.

This year, Lychee Thieves is part of our Mixed Plate Special program, a series of short films that explore interracial relationships. Be sure to check out Lychee Thieves and the rest of the Mixed Plate Special films on Monday, October 25th at 5:40p at the UltraStar Cinemas in Hazard Center! For more info, please click here.

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