The Hawaiians (film)

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The Hawaiians
Poster of the movie The Hawaiians.jpg
Directed byTom Gries
Written byJames Michener (novel)
James R. Webb
Produced byWalter Mirisch
StarringCharlton Heston
Tina Chen
Geraldine Chaplin
CinematographyLucien Ballard
Philip H. Lathrop
Edited byRalph E. Winters
Byron W. Brandt
Music byHenry Mancini
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
17 June 1970
Running time
134 minutes
Box office$2.3 million (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

The Hawaiians, released in the UK as Master of the Islands, is a 1970 United States historical film based on the 1959 novel Hawaii by James A. Michener. It was directed by Tom Gries with a screenplay by James R. Webb. The cast included Charlton Heston as Whipple Hoxworth and Geraldine Chaplin. The performance by Tina Chen led to her receiving a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actress.

The film was based on the book's later chapters, which covered the arrival of the Chinese and Japanese and the growth of the plantations. The third chapter of the book had been made into the film Hawaii in 1966.


Forty years after the events in the film Hawaii, Sea Captain Whipple "Whip" Hoxworth returns home with a hold full of Chinese laborers to find that his grandfather (Captain Rafer Hoxworth) has died and left his fortune to Hoxworth's cousin, Malama, and her husband, Micah Hale. Whip, the black sheep of his devout and conservative family, receives the worthless, waterless Hanakai plantation

We follow two Chinese from Whip's ship, Mun Ki and his “wife”, Nyuk Tsin. The man who kidnapped her from her Hakka village and sold her to a Honolulu brothel was killed on the voyage. At the dock, Mun Ki and the man from the brothel argue, and Whip's wife, Purity, makes him accept Nyuk Tsin as Mun Ki's wife and hire them. They are given a modest wooden house; the first thing she does is to clean a space for their bed.

Mun Ki takes the pregnant Nyuk Tsin to the merchant Foo Sen, a wise man, astrologer and genealogist. Mun Ki's horoscope foretells many sons, to be named after the continents. The first will be Kee Ah Chow, Asia, Foo Sen explains to Nyuk Tsin that when the child is born, Mun Ki's first wife in China, the “real” mother of all his anticipated sons, will be called Mother of Wu Chow, Mother of Five Continents. Nyuk Tsin will be “Aunt of Wu Chow,” Aunt of Five Continents. One day, Mun Ki will return to China, taking his sons to their real mother.

The boy is born. Purity also gives birth to a son, but she has no milk. Whip asks Wu Chow's Auntie to nurse the child and notices the garden she has planted. He is astonished that she plans to buy land with her earnings: “Chinese don't buy land… they go back to China.” “I never go back, “ she declares fiercely.

A well-driller named Overpeck finds water for the plantation by drilling through caprock to the water trapped between layers of ancient lava, creating the first artesian well in Hawaii.

Purity, like Whip, is one-quarter Hawaiian. She becomes obsessed with their ancestors and refuses Whip's demonstrations of affection. The doctor agrees it may be post-natal depression, but points out that Purity's Royal Hawaiian blood is the result of thousands of years of inbreeding. Her mind may be unbalanced.

Whip has two seed pineapple plants smuggled out of French Guiana. He gives the forlorn specimens to Wu Chow's Auntie, who has a "green thumb". When the plants flourish, the overjoyed Whip buys her some land and takes his old ship to French Guiana to steal more.

While he is gone, Wu Chow’s Auntie and Mun Ki discover that he has leprosy. Whip returns to find them in custody. He tries in vain to stop her from going with Mun Ki to the leper colony on Molokai. The ship does not land—passengers are thrown overboard to swim for their lives.

Whip removes Noel from Purity's care and retrieves the infant daughter of Mun Ki and Wu Chow's Auntie from Molokai. Foo Sen names her Mei Lei. Years pass. Noel goes to sea. Japanese come to work in the pineapple fields. Whip meets a beautiful, well educated girl named Fumiko, who becomes his mistress.

Mun Ki dies. With Whip's help, Wu Chow's Auntie is reunited with her grown, educated, and prospering sons and her little daughter. She decides to send one son to America to study law. They say it is impossible. She replies, “Impossible come back Molokai.”

The United States annexes Hawaii. Noel and Mei Lei fall in love. Whip and Wu Chow's Auntie are against it, although her sons approve. She says that white people do not understand the value of building a huge family that expands exponentially through generations. This is Mun Ki's immortality.

Plague comes to Honolulu. Fires set to burn out vermin rage out of control. Amid the ashes, Whip and Wu Chow's Auntie agree that Mei Lei and Noel will marry and Whip will lend her the money she needs to rebuild.

The film ends with Wu Chow's Auntie sitting next to Mun Ki's tomb, telling him about their family.


  • Charlton Heston as Whip Hoxworth
  • Tina Chen as Nyuk Tsin
  • Geraldine Chaplin as Purity Hoxworth
  • John Phillip Law as Noel Hoxworth
  • Alec Mccowen as Micah Hale
  • Mako as Mun Ki
  • Don Knight Milton as Overpeck
  • Miko Mayama as Fumiko[3]
  • Virginia Lee as Mei Li
  • Tanya Chang as Mei Li at 8
  • Naomi Stevens as Queen Liliuokalani
  • Harry Townes as American minister
  • Khigh Dhiegh as Kai Chung
  • Keye Luke as Foo Sen
  • James Gregory as Dr. Whipple, Sr.
  • Lyle Bettger as Janders
  • Mary Munday as Malama
  • George Paulsin as Noel at 15
  • Jules Martin as Noel at 8
  • Winston Char as Europe at 17
  • Michael Leong as Africa at 18
  • Randy Kim as Asia at 19
  • Victor Young as America at 16
  • Bill Fong as Australia at 14
  • Chris Robinson as Young Dr. Whipple
  • Mark Lebuse as Kilauea captain
  • Mathew Fitzgerald as Symes
  • Bruce Wilson as Morris
  • Mailie Mccauley as Iliki
  • Alan Naluai as Kimo
  • Forrest Wood as Hewlett
  • Murray Staff as A. Whipple
  • Harry Holcombe as Fredericks
  • Daniel Kaleikini Jr. as Lieutenant Keholo
  • Galen Kam as Jim Wu
  • Herman Wedemeyer as Fire chief
  • Victor Sen Yung as Chun Fat
  • Soo Young as Mrs. Ching
  • James Hong as Ti Chong
  • Elizabeth Smith as Apikela


The film opened to mixed reviews, with many critics feeling it was not as successful as the earlier movie Hawaii (1966), which was liked by both moviegoers and critics. It made less money than the original.

Writing for The New York Times, Roger Greenspun called it a "movie with reasonable claims to having something for almost everybody", with "spectacle" that proceeds with "efficient and attractive modesty"; he complimented the director's craftsmanship and highlighted the performances of John Phillip Law and Charlton Heston, but said "Geraldine Chaplin offers only a disturbing evocation of her father's face, without the other qualities of his presence."[4] He calls Tina Chen "not remarkable", even though she has a "role almost equal to Heston's".[4]

Time magazine was even less complimentary, saying "the plot is laced with the usual colonial tensions and pretensions: Hoxworth feuds with a polyglut of races while his pineapple princess (Geraldine Chaplin) goes quietly mad. Every time the pace slackens, which is often, someone goes to sea, either to pick up field hands or to transport lepers to Molokai. The incessant ebb and flow is intended as a metaphor for the turbulent tides of Hawaiian life. But the real metaphor here is the pineapple, which in the good old gangster days was a synonym for bomb.[5]

Tina Chen received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Bill Thomas was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Home media[edit]

The Hawaiians was released on a home video format (DVD) on January 28, 2011 as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection series.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11
  2. ^ "The Hawaiians". Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  3. ^ Limited, Alamy. "Stock Photo - THE HAWAIIANS, Miko Mayama, 1970". Alamy. Retrieved 2021-09-08.
  4. ^ a b Roger Greenspun (June 18, 1970). "The Hawaiians, with Something for Everybody, Arrives". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  5. ^ "Cinema: Pineapple Pap". Time. June 29, 1970. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved 2010-05-20.

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