The Legend Of Chang Apana

GENRE: Action Adventure (Short Film).

STATUS: The first episode of The Legend Of Chang Apana is completed and in development for a web series. Aside from being available for viewing on this web page, it is also available on YBS’ own online movie platform, Serenergy, and on the Roku TV channel, All Hawaii TV. The Legend Of Chang Apana was also accepted to and screened in the 2022 London Lift-Off Global Network’s Online Film Festival.

LOGLINE: Inspired by the life of Chang Apana, the real life Honolulu Detective of the early 1900’s who was the inspiration for Hollywood’s “Charlie Chan,” this is a proposed series about the adventures of Apana who enforced the law without a gun, but rather with his horse whip.

IMDb: The Legend Of Chang Apana

A Legend Comes To Life

When one talks of Hawaii’s legends, men who are truly known in history to have had some lasting impact on our culture, a number of prominent names come to mind. Of course there’s King Kamehameha, the man who united the Hawaiian Islands. There’s Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing and the famed Olympic swimmer. Don Ho, “Mr. Waikiki” and an ambassador of Aloha. And Senator Daniel K. Inouye, WWII hero and a titan of the United States Senate.

But among those who have affected society beyond our shores, but who don’t immediately come to mind, is the name of Chang Apana. A former paniolo (“Hawaiian cowboy”) of Chinese-Hawaiian descent, Apana was a member of the Honolulu Police Department who became its most famous detective. His exploits with the department were to become so legendary that he became the inspiration for American novelist and playwright Earl Derr Biggers to create his fictional Asian detective character known as “Charlie Chan.”

Will The Real Charlie Chan Please Step Forward? Werner Oland, on the right, who played the fictitious “Charlie Chan” in Hollywood, poses with Chang Apana, left, the Honolulu man on whose life the character was based.

Chang Apana was born Ah Ping Chang on December 26, 1871, in Waipio, Hawaii. His family moved back to China when he was 3, but Chang returned at the age of 10 to live with his uncle back in Waipio. As an adult, Chang was fluent in Hawaiian, Chinese, and of course the local creole, “pidgin.” In 1891 he started working as a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) and part of his job was to carry a bullwhip, which he became very proficient at using. Three years later, Chang started working for the Hawaii Humane Society, which at the time was part of the police department. He quickly moved up the ranks and due in part to his fluency in several languages, he gained a wide network of informants which helped him develop a shrewd and meticulous detective style that made Chang very successful in solving many cases.

Throughout a colorful career, Chang’s exploits became the stuff of legend. Of many adventures, he helped to round up people infected with leprosy and while performing this duty, Chang was attacked by a Japanese leper with a sickle, leaving him with a distinctive scar over his right eye. Another time Chang was thrown out of a second story window by drug addicts only to land on his feet. There is an account that on a single night in Honolulu, with no backup and armed only with his bullwhip, Apana arrested 40 gamblers, whom he then lined up and marched back to the police department. In effect, one could argue that he was Hawaii’s first action hero. But in an era of no Internet, indeed not even television, the adventures of Hawaii’s most famous cop became long forgotten over time.

Not anymore. For while serving as creative director at Oceanic Time Warner in Hawaii, Jon Brekke was also given leeway to develop creative content outside of the company’s normal programming that was aired on its station, OC-16. Spurred on by a bevy of interns who pleaded with him to work on something other than the usual marketing commercials and promos, he inquired around and found an idea by colleague John Noland that seemed perfect. Noland, who growing up in Hawaii used to wonder why there were never any local heroes in the movies or on TV (especially since Hawaii had its share of world icons like Kamehameha, Duke Kahanamoku, etc.), told Jon of the exploits of Apana that seemed more legend than fact, and from this the idea of developing a series revolving around the adventures of Apana was born. Finding enthusiastic support from both his staff and his boss, Jon pitched The Legend of Chang Apana to the one actor he thought totally embodied the character, Hollywood star, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, American Me, Memoirs Of A Geisha, et. al.). Tagawa, caught by surprise by the pitch and busy with two productions on the mainland (Tekken, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale), was nonetheless immediately intrigued by the notion and quickly responded “Yes.”

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays the legendary Chang Apana, an action hero for all ages.

Things came together quickly in 2009. Jon envisioned using graphics that resembled those used for the old television series The Wild Wild West; essentially using present day technology inspired by old style TV. He got filmmaker Michael Wurth to write the script and direct the shoot, while he pulled the production together and directed the 3D portion of it by working closely with his animator. Highlighting Apana’s skill with the whip was Jon’s idea, particularly the notion of it cracking in 3D. The result is an exciting take on a hero from Hawaii’s past, shot in a hip and slick manner that audiences of today will love.

An Interview With Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (a video interview shot by the Pacific Network)

The Legend Of Chang Apana premiered at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and was also shown at the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) where it was selected for a special HIFF Sunset on the Beach screening.

The Legend Of Chang Apana – The Complete Short Film In Its Entirety

For information on other movies produced by Yellow Brick Studio / LegacyVision Films click HERE.

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