Twelve-year-old Pai (Castle-Hughes) and her grandfather (Paratene) are as close as can be, but he's not about to ignore centuries of Maori tribal tradition and consider a girl to be his successor as leader of his people. Her stubborn attempts to prove herself to him and secretly learn the ways of a Maori warrior—the Maori were the first inhabitants of New Zealand—glowingly bring to the screen a story that's fresh but at the same time familiar. No matter the country or the tribe, coming of age is never easy.
Castle-Hughes, 11 at the time of filming, is a find right up there with fellow New Zealander Anna Paquin (The Piano and X2). She's lovely, carries herself with authority and conveys deep feeling with a mere look or a slump of her shoulders. And there's stellar support from the adult cast, including Paratene, Cliff Curtis as her absent dad and Vicky Haughton as her kindly grandmother. (PG-13)
BOTTOM LINE: A Kiwi delight