Set in urban Auckland (New Zealand), two original movies precede the series and tell the story of the Heke family; a family descended from Maori warriors, bedeviled by violent father Jake, and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts.
The Series Concept
When the noise stops, silence shouts.
The story opens with the arrival of multiple gangs arriving by convoy at an inter-gang title fight. But there is a history to this gathering that features some of the Heke family, and Jake is not the least of them.
The cast from the books and the movies are ingrained in everyone’s imaginations. Some beg explanation. Why was Jake “The Muss” Heke so angry, and a disproportionate number of Maoris so dysfunctional? Were they once warriors who lost all sense of meaning when European culture took over? With land confiscation, a culture subsumed, was there nothing to replace the lost pride?
A few characters from Once Were Warriors need some explaining. Firstly: Jake Heke. Why the anger and violence? What makes a disproportionate number of Maoris angry? Was it a wrong never healed? Or, was it a culture, a way of life that was brought to an abrupt end with nothing to replace it?
No matter the explanation, if their individual stories were told, surely some redemption would follow? You may finally discover just how awful Jake’s childhood was, and in this story, maybe he is forgiven …
At high school, a young Jake protects a white boy from Maori bullies and a close bond develops. Jake left school at 16, became a labourer, and spent a good part of his early adulthood on unemployment benefits. His white friend, on the other hand, went to university and became a successful barrister.
The Jake of today sees domestic violence, the drinking culture, as a mirror of his old self. He wants to make amends – but how? As for drugs, he knows nothing until it stumbles into his life in the form of his addicted son, Abe. When Abe dies from an overdose, the Jake of old re-emerges and he seeks out the dealers, bringing him into contact with the gangs that control the drug trade. An immovable object meets the same but in multiple forms.
Since Grace Heke took her own life twenty five years ago, and their son Nig was shot dead in a gang clash, what of the surviving Heke children? Another son, Huata, put his father’s violent ways to positive use and is now a major in the elite army S.A.S.. Forty year old Mark “Boogie” is an administrator for a tribal trust – and gay. Thirty eight year old property investor millionaire Polly still blames her father for causing her beloved sister Grace’s death by suicide.
Out of Jake’s dim schoolboy past comes an encounter with George Trambert. As if fifty years had not passed, they’re close friends again, but both are now mid-sixties wiser. Despite their career and intellectual differences, they learn from each other.
Jake doesn’t know he has a grandson, born of his late son Nig’s loins, brought up by the murdered mother’s sister, Shayla, in a gang house. Butch has his grandad’s fighting genes and wins the inter-gang Top Dog title. The seed hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Jake ends up in Butch’s fight corner. Just part of the process of a man finding himself.
Shayla is significant. From an abused childhood – like so many – she’s raw, loving, dangerous and smart. Another aching heart yearning to have a voice.
A contradiction to the ‘clean & green’ image of New Zealand, it also ranks as the highest rate for gang membership
in the developed world. Jake has seen the gangs’ wild, untamed behaviour; he even clashed with a gang leader in a pub many years ago. Things are different now. The gangs are better organised. They share a drug supply network throughout the country, and have become more influential. The all-white gang, The Devil’s Disciples, have run the drug game in NZ for years, supplying the other gangs.
But New Zealand has changed demographically: Asians, not least Chinese, have become a dominant force in residential and business New Zealand. Madame Guan-yin is ruthless, savvy, and brings cooked meth directly from China. She even flies her new handbag first-class from Hong Kong. Choc Naera, leader of The Cannibals, is not what he seems. He suffers from depression, and despite his violent ways has a soft side, as well as intelligence in need of an outlet. Maybe some moral values are wanting out, too?
There’s the president of the Fist’s Nation gang, aptly named Pitbull, a total arsehole. Shayla, the aunt who raised Butch, is his lover if you’re willing to call it that. Shayla’s had enough of being beaten, of being a woman in a macho society. She forms her own, predominantly female gang.
Nigel Trambert is the son of George, Jake’s lawyer friend. Nigel is a zealous cop out to get as many gang members as he can, by hook or by crook. Nigel eventually has reason to hate Jake Heke. Why is Nigel so angry when he has such nice parents?
Out of Jake’s high school past comes a windfall: a block of residential land gifted in George’s father’s will. He never forgot young Jake protecting his son. Nigel intends challenging the will in court which draws a strong, distinct line within the Trambert family.
Beth Heke has moved on from her violent husband, living a seemingly happy and quite affluent life married to a senior bureaucrat, Charlie Bennett. However, behind closed doors Charlie is a self-obsessed, pompous bore and hopeless in bed. Though he does love her. Beth yearns for a challenge, some kind of distraction. She gets it when her daughter Polly rents out one of her houses to Shayla, who has turned her back on the Fists gang.
The former Heke couple, Jake and Beth, having lost a daughter to suicide, a son in a gang war, and another to drugs, both find themselves unexpectedly involved in lives that they want to protect more than ever. Family means something more now. Life has come full circle. Except Jake has become rich overnight, and outcome that could never have been predicted, and it stirs everything up.
Ultimately, Jake grows as a man. So does his realization that since he was once the problem, now he must be part of the solution to this situation of a people “lost in the wilderness.” Now, he actually has the financial means to do something, as well as having his lawyer friend and access to George’s social network to make things happen.
Just getting there is a long, fraught journey.