imagineNATIVE: Red, White & Brass

imagineNATIVE Review: Red, White and Brass

Tongan pride and community are on full display through affectionate storytelling.

A light-hearted and inspiring tale of national pride, Red, White and Brass is one fun flick for the whole family screening at imagineNATIVE 2023.

Maka (John-Paul Foliaki) is a Tongan rugby super-fan who will do whatever it takes to score tickets to the highly anticipated 2011 Tonga vs. France World Cup match set to take place in Wellington, New Zealand. With the game sold out, Maka has the brilliant idea to have his Tongan brass band perform in the stadium, earning them front-row seats to the big game. There’s just one small problem: Maka doesn’t have a brass band. Or instruments. Or musical talent. Together with a ragtag group of rugby fans from his community, Maka has just four weeks to make their brass band dreams a reality.

With Tongan culture and humour at its centre, Red, White and Brass is a delightful and joyous comedy directed by Damon Fepulea’i with Taiki Waititi serving as executive producer. Written by Fepulea’i, Halaifonua “Nua” Finau, and Leki Jackson-Bourke, the film is based on Finau’s own experiences. That’s right. This wacky brass band scheme to score tickets to the Rugby World Cup actually happened.

Finau was a member of the real-life brass band and the character of Maka is very loosely based on his own experiences. Featuring a cast of mostly first-time film actors, former New Zealand Popstars contestant John-Paul Foliaki brings an infectious joyful energy to the lead role of Maka. The cast gels well together, particularly Mikey Falesiu as a recent Tongan immigrant, Samisoni. Rael members of the Taulanga Ū Brass Band and Finau’s own parents play versions of themselves as Maka’s mom and dad in a nice added touch that only further speaks to the film’s celebration of the community.


The Tongan word “māfana” comes up more than once during Red, White and Brass. Described as the overwhelming feeling of warmth and emotion one gets, it’s a fitting word for the film itself. Tongan pride and community are on full display here through affectionate storytelling. It’s more than just Maka’s individual journey to score tickets to the big game, but one that shows a nation swelling with pride for its traditions and culture.

Red, White and Brass isn’t going to revolutionize the comedy genre. Some jokes are perhaps not as funny as the film’s writers may intend, but it’s easy to see why it is already a hit in its home country of New Zealand. There are definitely elements of feel-good underdog movies like Brassed Off, Cool Runnings, and Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins in here. It doesn’t really matter that you can guess the inevitable outcome before the first frames of the movie begin because you know you’re about to be entertained, and there’s something quite comforting about that.

Red, White, and Brass screens as part of imagineNATIVE on October 20.
Note that all films on October 20 are free and tickets can only be collected in person at the box office at Lightbox.