03rd Dec2020

‘The Legend of Baron To’a’ VOD Review

by Kevin Haldon

Stars: Uli Latukefu, Nathaniel Lees, Jay Laga’aia, Shavaughn Ruakere, John Tui | Written by John Argall | Directed by Kiel McNaughton

Imagine Taika Watiti directed a mash-up of Once Were Warriors, with a sprinkling of Kung Fu Hustle; then add a touch of Lock Stock, oh, and some WWE Raw and you have THIS movie!

I bloody love it when I’m right… You know when you see a trailer for a movie or a poster or even just the box for the movie, and you think man that looks and sounds so damn good?! So you spend some hard earned cash (well in this case fire off an email) and sit down to watch it, only to find that you have uncovered an absolute gem of a movie. That dear reader is The Legend of Baron To’a. An absolute joy of a movie that had me smiling from ear-to-ear all the way through and was just a great little flick out of New Zealand… and I don’t even care that I’m giving my verdict of the film away in the first paragraph!

In fact as Tim Bisley would say let’s just “Skip to the End” and say that this is a 5 out of 5 for me. This movie did nothing wrong and was perfect. OK, OK, let’s ACTUALLY talk about The Legend of Baron To’a

Fritz (Latukefu) has returned home from Sydney to the dead end cul-de-sac of his youth to sell off his family home. A lot has changed over the years and the neighbourhood is over run by a gang called the pig hunters. With no real desire to re-connect he just wants to sell the house and leave. One night there is a burglary in his home and they have stolen the championship wrestling belt won by his father Baron To’a (Tui). When his uncle Otto (Lees) cancels the sale of the house until the belt has been retrieved, Fritz must get back in touch with his roots and become the man he was supposed to be, take on the wannabe king of the cul-de-sac Tahu, clean up the neighbourhood and in the process hopefully get the girl as he demands “A Shot at the Title”…

There have been some dynamite gems to have come out of New Zealand over the years. Like the awesome Once Were Warriors and it’s decent sequel, Hunt for the Wilderpeople; What we do in The Shadows and Black Sheep to name a few. I am going to be putting The Legend of Baron To’a right up there with those movies. Is the story all that original? Not exactly BUT a simple story executed flawlessly is the best outcome and this one is just that.

Lead actor Uli Latakefu is impossible not to fall in love with. He has so much charm and charisma throughout this film that even when he is being a bad ass and throwing hands, you can’t help but root for the guy. His performance in this, trying to use his characters smarts and mix it with the tenacity and bravery of his fathers legacy, really felt palpable to me and I bought it. We only really see Baron To’a played by John Tui in flashbacks or VHS tapes of him but the soul of the man is imprinted on this movie. I love the way he is that typical Tongan father we see stereotyped so much however this movie never once plays it for laughs and always gives that family feel, If Fritz is the heart then To’a is the soul.

Uncle Otto, played by Nathaniel Lees, who you may remember from the Matrix Trilogy (he was the “we give them hell before we leave” general), really holds proceedings together and helps the movie tiptoe on the line of not over-egging the drama. You know what? everyone is just superbly cast – from the kids who make up the street punks, to the adults running the gangs, to the neighbours in the surrounding houses; and it’s all helped by a very strong script and insanely well shot action.

Lets get into the “well shot action” for a hot minute… because so far I could well be talking about an episode of Neighbours. There is a lot of action in here too, a lot of it is Backyard Wrestling but used to bone-crunching effect. There is one move where Fritz DDTs a woman face first onto a concrete driveway! It’s pretty glorious. The fights do get pretty brutal too – as they should be – but just when the tension is ramped up the next level, director Kiel McNaughton hits us with a belly laugh joke or situation. The cinematography, choreography, script and pacing of the last 25 minutes is easily one of the best blocks of filming I have seen in years. This crew use everything at their disposal to make the final run to the end pure perfection, with a very smart execution of a brutal, heartwarming and clever final act.

I’m going to say it now, The Legend of Baron To’a is one of my favourite movies of 2020 and has proven the Covid may have spoilt what was supposed to be a great year but it has given me a chance to find those lesser-advertised, not so mainstream movies, and this film firmly falls into the category of “seek it out now this is a gem you don’t want to miss”.

***** 5/5

The Legend of Baron To’a comes to Digital Platforms & VOD on December 4th

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