Red White and Brass: The Tongan underdog Rugby World Cup movie that Aotearoa might need right now

Red White and Brass is very much an underdog story, but it's one that is so rooted in the Tongan community's positivity and fan fervour that it drips with the Tongan concept of māfana (an inner warm passion).

Filmed in Wellington, it's the tale of Tongan rugby superfan Maka (John- Paul Foliaki) who will do whatever it takes to get to the Tonga v France game at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But when he fails and lets down his community, he lands on an unlikely plan: to deliver a brass marching band for the pre-match entertainment to get them all into the game.

However, that band doesn't exist - and Maka has only four weeks to pull one together.

A hybrid that draws on the likes of The Full Monty and Ted Lasso's mantra of Belief, Red, White and Brass promises more than just feel-good enthusiasm. It's based on the true story of the band's genesis before they appeared at Tonga's historic and shocking win against France in the Rugby World Cup.

Writer Halaifonua Fina came up with the story - and he should know what he's talking about as members of his family were in the marching brass band that played at the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

His brother Lupeti Finau, who played in the original band in 2011 and performed in front of thousands, appears as a band member in the film.

However, Lupeti told Newshub his brother hadn't planned for the film to be a comedy - and he had to talk him around.

"A few years back he wanted to do a romance story as an ode to him and his current wife. I was like, 'Bro, no one is going to want to come to a romance story about you two. Think of something else.'

"Thankfully he had the good mind to heed and listen to my advice. So this is all because of the conversation I had with him that it turned into a family drama comedy," he said, chuckling loudly.

Lupeti still plays in the band and said the reality of being on set every day with other brass band members as the film was made was special.

Red White and Brass
Lupeti Finau as he appears in Red White and Brass. Photo credit: Madman films

"It's just unreal that a movie has been made about that particular time for us. We were just blown away the whole time, just just being there."

Red, White and Brass is said to wear its heart on its sleeve throughout its 90 minute run time, intending for its māfana to proffer an insight to those ignorant of what drives Tongan passion.

"I'm sure so many New Zealanders are sick of seeing us raise the flag, the Red Sea, whatever type of team is playing in New Zealand. But if you really want to understand why Tongans do things the way we do, yeah, this is the film to go and watch. Trust me - you will be pleasantly surprised and entertained by this film."

Finau said given the start to 2023 the whole of Aotearoa has experienced, it's the perfect time to enjoy a film such as this - and a perfect reflection on what's going on across the motu.

Red White and Brass Tongan marching band
The Tongan marching brass band reliving its 2011 past. Photo credit: Madman Films

"This film is about a community supporting one of its own, supporting each other. And you know, with the flooding that happened and you know, in Auckland and the Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, the first respondents were the community.

"Yeah, they were the ones that came to help, to support those that were caught up in the floods. They're struggling and they are still struggling."

Finau should know what he's talking about - he works at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples in Wellington, with the Gisborne and Hawke's Bay areas under his remit.

He told Newshub he's touched that despite everything that's going on in those regions, some have already got in touch with him trying to work out how they can see the film when it's released.

"I've really had a call from some youth leaders in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne who are keen to have the film.

"They actually buzzed out when they saw the trailer and they were like 'Hey, Mr, is that you in the trailer?' I said 'Nah, it's my twin.' But hopefully when we can, we'll take the movie there and I'll definitely make an appearance."

Toward the end of the film, it's no spoiler to reveal the actual footage from the 2011 game between Tonga and France is used to show the original marching band perform, something which Finau says gave him "goosebumps".

Finau says he hopes the community around Aotearoa will head to the feel-good film.
Finau says he hopes the community around Aotearoa will head to the feel-good film. Photo credit: Madman Films

"It gave it the authenticity of that being a true story, that the majority of the film actually really happened and not just something that was made up."

As for the actors themselves in the film, Finau says none of them could play before filming began, but as time went on, a competitive edge emerged on set.

"During the filming, a lot of the actors were trying to see who could learn to play a tune the quickest from our boys. We were teaching them little tunes, and they'd have a battle at the end of the day or during shooting breaks to see who had improved the most."

When asked if any of them will be joining the band permanently, Finau is coy, but promises anyone going to the film's premiere in Auckland and Wellington may be in for a surprise with the real-life band promising to make an appearance, even though many of them have moved on.

But just don't expect their performance to be the start of a tour of Aotearoa.

"A reunion? Well it's a reunion for us every week as we all practice on Fridays at the church - but what this movie has done is afforded us the opportunity to relive those moments: the late night practices, the long days of learning the steps, learning the music, having to memorise it and reminding just how much of a perfectionist the musical genius was who taught us!"

Red, White and Brass is releasing in New Zealand on March 23.