‘Paradise Broken’ shows another Waikiki

“Paradise Broken,” directed by James Sereno of Honolulu, brings a superbly realistic view of the Waikiki we don’t see on postcards. This film doesn’t glamorize Diamond Head or the strip. It examines the dark side of Waikiki, as Sereno says “the dirt under the fingernails, no nail polish side.”

For those who know the grid-like layout of Waikiki, it’s ocean, a tourist-filled strip then the Kuhio/Ala Wai area that has issues with drugs and other things society frowns upon. Sereno has directed commercials (Blood Bank Hawai‘i, United Way) and short films. As a film writer, this film struck a chord with me on many levels.

Shot in 20 days (break-neck speed), edited over the course of nine months and created “to feature local stories from all sides,” this film screened at the prestigious Directors Guild of America building on the famed Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. With this film, Sereno wanted to examine “darker emotions, commercials don’t let me examine.” It was a real pleasure to see this film on the big screen. It was not “The Descendants” or “Battleship” — it was people we know portrayed onscreen.

This film’s realism was astounding. I lived in Waikiki for years and “Paradise Broken” brings us into the city as an observer without spoon-feeding us the troubled story of the drug-addicted Ray (Dante Brasco) and Misha (Nadine Heimann). This film uses a fractured narrative style of filmmaking borrowing directly (or indirectly) from films like “21 Grams” (Sean Penn), “Taxi Driver” (Robert De Niro) and foreign films that just let the story happen. No explosions, cliches or tricks. A story of two troubled humans trying to survive.

I admire the guts behind this film. Like anywhere in America, Hawai‘i is not just grass skirts and good food. This film doesn’t insult locals or insinuate that everyone does drugs. I believe we have as much to learn from the dark things in life as we do from the light. As a viewer, I experienced the duality of man. In an excellent, award-winning (Best Actor Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival) performance by Dante Brasco (“Hook”), we realize that drug addicts stuck in the concrete jungle of Waikiki have more hopes than to be high or make money off illegal activities. They are, at the end of the day, people  too.

The dark vortex is not an addict’s constant. There was life before drugs is what we learn through flashbacks. For me, I like to believe anyone with problems had a good life before. In our society, we’re quick to judge. “Paradise Broken” doesn’t judge. This film is in negotiation to be distributed. For more information about “Paradise Broken” or the mission of Kinetic Films to bring Hawai‘i stories to the surface, visit www.kineticfilms.com.

I was honored to watch fellow locals doing well here in Los Angeles. Please continue to support local films.

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