More than a decade later, I'm still recovering from the emotional devastation I suffered while watching Once Were Warriors, a film about the downtrodden underclass of New Zealand's native Maori and how domestic abuse, poverty, and alcoholism have brought so many of them to their knees or even to early graves. The movie packs an almost literal punch.
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? is the somewhat unnecessary sequel, picking up the story of the shattered Heke family a few years after the first film. Violent wife beater Jake (the overpowering Temuera Morrison) is now divorced from his long-suffering wife Beth (Rena Owen), the emotional core of the first film. Their teenage daughter is already a suicide victim, and as this film opens, their eldest son, Nig (Julian Arahanga), a gang member, is shot dead in a gang fight. How awful to see Beth agonize through another funeral when the film is only five minutes old! Give the poor lady a break!
Another son, Sonny (Clint Eruera), vows revenge, ignoring his estranged father's pleas to keep cool. Soony turns to Nig's girlfriend, Tania (Nancy Brunning) to guide him into the Maori gang underworld so he can seek out the bad guys.
And what an underworld it is. Eventually the two decide to join a rival gang, the Black Snakes, and hire them to kill Nig's killer. These guys take all their aesthetic cues from Mad Max movies, and their wild tattoos and haircuts, leather gear, and custom-made motorcycles make them look not quite conventionally human. They seem to exist in their own junkyard world, hidden behind steel gates until they emerge in noisy convoys to wreak havoc around the city.
There's no way this can end well. Sonny is way in over his head very quickly, although he gets props for stealing money from an ATM by simply removing the machine from a building wall with the help of a tow truck. As father and son inch a bit closer, Jake, who is now trying to live on the straight and narrow after pretty much destroying his family, keeps trying to help.
Unfortunately, the movie's third act veers into action movie clichés, and you could easily swap Temuera Morrison for The Rock and get the same result. That's too bad, because it wasn't the violent exterior trappings but rather the inner turmoil that made Once Were Warriors so intense. Jake was a fully rounded character the first time around. Now he's wielding a monkey wrench in a gang fight and shouting "Give me my son!" You've seen that stuff before. You don't need to travel to New Zealand to see more.
Well, they get angry!