In this cinematic allegory of love and loss, a hula dancer fights for survival and her sanity in the shadows of Waikiki.
In the paradise of Waikiki, Kea, a beautiful Native Hawaiian woman, smiles at the tourists who watch her dance hula with perfect charm. Her number ends, the stage lights cut, and Kea’s smile disappears. The seductive dancer shifts to grim survivor as Kea, who is determined to leave an abusive relationship, returns to the van she calls home to change outfits for her second job at a seedy hostess bar in Chinatown.
Her ex-boyfriend, Branden, tracks her down and confronts her in the bar, accusing her of “sucking dick for money” and of skipping her medication. He tries to force her to come home with him. He beats her in an alley when she refuses. Kea, showing us the fighter she is, escapes Branden’s assault and races o into the night in her van. In her frantic escape, she blows through a stop sign, crashing into a homeless man standing in the street. Unwilling to leave him on the side of the road to die, she takes him into her van, her home, her life.
Kea scrapes together any work she can find -- dancer, bargirl, teacher at a Native Hawaiian charter school -- to take back her life. After a night shift at the hostess bar, with enough saved for rent, Kea returns to the parking lot where she last left her van to find it and all her possessions missing. Devastated, she takes out her anger on the homeless man and cries herself to sleep on the pavement of the parking lot, dreaming of a home and a mysterious old woman calling for her.
Now adrift, Kea reluctantly accepts the homeless man’s help, and they set out on a journey to find her van. Triggered by wandering into the seedy side of urban Chinatown at night, Kea has a disturbing flashback that forces her to relive traumatic memories of abandonment and assault as a young child. Spiraling into her subconscious, she fights violently to survive the episode.
Broken by her futile efforts to and her van, and now days without the medication she needs for her mental well being, she disconnects from reality. In the urban desolation on the outskirts of Waikiki, Kea is visited by the old woman from her dreams. Reverting, childlike, she dances a simple hula to center herself and reconnect with her culture and land.
Branden finds Kea ragged, dancing under a relentless sun, surrounded by an ancestral home land equally scorched. As sadness washes over the closing scene, we watch her through Branden’s eyes, and realize that Kea is alone. There is no homeless man. He doesn’t exist and has only been a hallucination created by her illness, her isolation, and her imagination. Branden, teary-eyed, lets her finish her dance, knowing he cannot save her.