When Tongan village Headman Singing Whale (Loketi Tatafu) begins to worry about his advancing age, he decides to choose his successor. His two candidates are the skilled hunter Flying Fox (Soa Prescott) and the useless imbecile Gecko Lizard (Kamaloni Afu). To test the two men, he sends them away from the village to experience the world around them, only to return when they are ready to be Headman. Gecko Lizard goes North, Flying Fox goes South.
On his journey South, Flying Fox encounters the quick-to-take-offense Westerners, embroiled in perpetual war with the Easterners. After teaching his new Western village friends how to hunt and fish, Flying Fox sets about solving the neverending conflict between East and West, becoming a mediator for both villages. But where Flying Fox applies wisdom and reason, his new friends apply emotion, insults and violence. Simply, Flying Fox has his work cut out for him, and when he can head home, he has another challenge waiting.
Alex Bernstein’s When The Man Went South is an amusing adventure and playful tale; simultaneously containing immense wisdom about human nature, war and peace, and full of low brow humor. After this one, I’m adding “turtle-f****r” and “parrot-f****r” to my list of insults. There’s another potential insult that comes in the third act, but I’m not going to spoil that one for you.
The pacing of this one can be a little slow at times. As I watched, I was hoping that Flying Fox would move on from the Easterners-Westerners (or Westerners-Easterners, so they don’t fight over who got named first) conflicts to encounter even more strange characters farther away from home, but the film is content to stick with them for the majority of the film. In the moment, it felt like too much repetition (lots of back-and-forth that you can easily predict after a while), but when the film ended, it made perfect sense why it had to linger so, and worked for the overall tale.
Visually, the film takes advantage of its exotic locale, and the skills of its cinematographer. Which is to say there are some breath-taking shots in this one, and when they’re lacking, it still looks really good. Slight issues with editorial pacing aside, I found the technical aspects of the film to be exceptionally well done.
In the end, I really enjoyed When The Man Went South, and it even got a few out-loud laughs from me (which is not common). Much of this came from the joy of hearing the different names everyone had for each other, but predominantly it was the absurdist, but also very dry, sense of humor covering the entire production (even from the narration, performed by Viliami T. Halapua). There’s much wisdom here, but the film also wants you to enjoy yourself, so it never lets up on the humor, and is better for it.
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