Koro (Rawiri Paratene) is the Chief of the Ngati Kanohi tribe of Whangara which resides in a coastal fishing village. His thought is that his firstborn son, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), will succeed him as chief. When it's clear that Porourangi has no interest in filling Koro's leadership shoes, Koro looks to his son's children. But tragedy takes over when Porourangi's wife dies in childbirth along with a twin boy, sending Porourangi to seek solace for his loss elsewhere. He leaves daughter Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes, in her film debut), the surviving girl twin, in the care of Koro. "The girl is no use to me", Koro blusters, disappointed that as a girl, she's not a candidate for tribal leadership.
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