It's been six years since the cheeky stars of hit Kiwi film Sione's Wedding had us in stitches, and next week they return in a sequel. Lydia Jenkin asks what brought them back for another chapter?
It's been five years since those Duckrockers were told to grow up and find girlfriends to bring to Sione's wedding. And when we left them, it seemed they'd made a promising start.
But things haven't gone quite as planned for the five Samoan Kiwi boys, and they've grown apart as they continue to struggle with figuring out their lives.
Returning to the familiar surrounds of Grey Lynn, as Sione's 2: Unfinished Business begins, they're brought back together by a tragedy, and their minister sends them on another quest.
"I don't think he's grown up at all," actor Robbie Magasiva muses about his character Michael. "But I think the situation that he comes back to makes him grow up a little bit. I think they're still immature in some ways, but they grow up a little bit in the film, all of the boys. Even though it's over a really short amount of time."
We follow Michael, Sefa, Albert, and Stanley, over the course of 24 hours, criss-crossing the city in a van, hopping from bar to bar, arguing, and propelling each other through their own individual trials, as they search for Bolo (Dave Fane) - who holds the key to the whole mystery.
John Barnett (CEO of South Pacific Pictures, which funded the film along with TV3, and the NZ Film Commission which pitched in $2.5 million), has always been keen on the sequel. Sione's Wedding broke box office records, and despite a piracy problem still took more than $4 million in New Zealand cinemas, making it our fifth highest-grossing film.
So it was always clear audiences would be keen for more. And though the cast were also keen (Shimpal Lelisi, who plays Sefa, says "We had a saying - I'm in, if we're all in") it took quite some time for writers James Griffin and Oscar Kightley (who also returns as Albert) to work through various story ideas.
"We spent the early years exploring different kinds of stories, including different characters and different settings," explains Kightley, "and it was only after exploring and discarding them that we settled on the brainwave of, why don't we just see where those characters would be, five years later, in a different situation?"
It's still a comedy, and there's hijinks and mishaps aplenty, but the boys are all nearing middle age and the film has a noticeably darker undertone than its hit predecessor, dealing with infidelity, mortality, family ties, reputations and friendship.
"The stakes are definitely higher for all the characters in this film," says Simon Bennett, a veteran television and stage director making his feature debut, the first film having been directed by Chris Graham.
"It's a film about the fact that this is their last chance to grow up, and the clock is ticking. They all face the abyss at some stage along the way and have to haul themselves out of it. And really, it's about growing up, and their friendship is what helps them put their lives back together. So I think ultimately it's positive, but there is more depth to this film in terms of the territory it covers."
Kightley was determined the film would remain true to its characters and roots, and have a sense of realism, without repeating itself.
"We wanted to give people elements that they liked about the first film, but we wanted to challenge ourselves too, not to just do the same thing, not just do a sequel that had the same jokes. There might be similar themes, but in terms of the characters I think people tune in to watch their story, to see them learn life's lessons, which, when you think about it, is one of the most important things you have to do."
The issues facing the boys this time around are more grown up, though they're also still hustling, trying to hang on to their old selves, their youth and their freedom.
Sefa and Leilani have had two kids, been engaged for five years, and Sefa's business is struggling. Despite this, Leilani seems happy and balanced - she's stopped hitting Sefa, spends a lot of time with her personal trainer, and "smiles all the time", which has Sefa a bit suspicious.
"He's at a bit of a low point really, and the Duckrockers are spread wide and don't hang out as much as they did," Lelisi explains. "Michael's overseas, Albert's on the North Shore, so Sefa's been getting tight with Stanley more than anyone I think."
Stanley however, has decided to get tight with the Lord. He's now a trainee deacon in the Future Church, and wears a large wooden cross around his neck, happily misappropriating song lyrics as quotes from the Bible.
Albert has married Tania, and they're unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, while Albert's feeling a little inferior at work.
And Michael has moved on from his job as a cycle courier into real estate, while still managing to get himself into endless trouble with the ladies - compelling him to move to Australia.
"He's spent a lot of time running away," Magasiva laughs. "But yeah, now he's fallen in love for the first time."
This particular woman comes with an Australian mob family in tow though, and Michael hasn't been entirely honest with her, so there's some more running to do yet.
Revisiting these characters feels something like a reunion, given that it's been five years in film time and real time, and Magasiva reckons the audience will find them as relatable as ever.
"I think one reason why the first movie was so successful was that most Kiwis could relate to those people. They could sit there in the theatre and say, 'shit I know that guy, he's my best mate', or 'Albert, I know that guy, he still lives with his mum'. And I think with the second film, they'll see the characters five years on, and be able to say, 'yeah that's what happened to my mate', or whoever. You know, 'that guy is in more trouble, that guy has lost his business, that guy is a bit lost'."
Part of the charm of these characters is the chemistry which the five lead actors share, drawn from the familiarity of their work together as The Naked Samoans.
"Those characters have a rhythm, and to find that rhythm again took a week or so," Lelisi says of the rehearsal process.
But once they did, there was plenty of room for playing around during shooting, working off each other and feeding into the script.
"I'd say a big chunk of it is in the script, it's all written, but then there are other parts which the guys come up with spontaneously," Bennett adds. "In fact, there were quite a few ad lib lines that ended up in the film, just things that came out of people's mouths and made sense."
Another thing which Bennett felt was important to make sense in the film, was the sense of place.
"I live in Grey Lynn too and I can walk to many of our locations, so I kind of wanted to show off part of Auckland to the world. I also wanted the journey of the characters on their quest to be logical. If they ran out of Murder Burger, round the corner and down Mackelvie St, we'd pick them up in Murdoch Rd, so that the geography of the story actually made sense."
The location was important to the actors too, Lelisi explaining why it influenced their performances.
"There's an accent, there's a central Auckland brown accent, and a rhythm of speech and a carriage, which is different to South Auckland Polynesians and West Auckland Polynesians. You can tell," he laughs.
Auckland's predictably showery weather did wreak havoc with the 2011 summer filming schedule of course - "It actually rained continuously through the entire shoot, a lot of those blue skies are fake in the film. The skies were really all grey and it was shot between downpours," Bennett laughs.
" But Auckland looks amazing on the screen," Magasiva points out. "Because we're having such a rubbish summer, go and see Sione's 2 to see what an Auckland summer looks like, just to remind yourself."
Settling the score
A film set in Auckland's Pacific Island community wouldn't be complete without a pumping soundtrack, and the Sione's 2: Unfinished Business soundtrack fits the bill, diving into our deep well of local urban and hip-hop music. Featuring a swag of Dawn Raid and Frequency Media Group artists such as Savage, Mareko, Home Brew, David Dallas, PNC, P-Money,Vince Harder and more, it cements the sense of place for audiences, and informs the film with a certain rhythm.
"I had to actually learn quite a lot about the world of the film," director Simon Bennett explains. "I asked for help when I was dealing with territory that was unfamiliar, and I also listened to a lot of music while we were making the film, music from this particular world, and that subliminally all fed into the process."
Much of the film is shot in bars and clubs, which is the perfect tie-in for many of the tracks, but they also asked local luminary film composer Don McGlashan to create dramatic, scored music to link scenes and build emotion, and also rearrange This is Love.
Originally by Monsta, and featuring J Boog, it's used in the film's big finale and the new version includes two choirs - one from Grey Lynn's St Joseph's church, and one from Aorere College, singing Samoan prayer O Le Alofa Lea. Actress Teuila Blakely, who plays Leilani, was the one who originally suggested the track to Bennett and - in a nice twist - Blakely and Shimpal Lelisi (who plays her fiancee Sefa in the movie) appeared in the original video released in 2010 as a Samoan couple.
To sample that track, download a free MP3 of the new version of This is Love, here. PC users right-click and Mac users control-click to download.
What: Sione's 2: Unfinished Business, the sequel to hit local film Sione's Wedding (2006)
When: Opens January 19. Sione's Wedding is also screening on TV3 this Sunday at 8.55pm