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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 26, 2009

Lychee larceny in the land of aloha

By Lee Cataluna

Lychee is valuable. No other fruit grown in Hawai'i makes the police blotter as much as lychee. It has a long history of inspiring greed and obsession. In ancient China, an emperor once commanded his imperial messengers to ride all day and night over great distance to bring back lychee, the favorite fruit of his favorite concubine.

Filmmaker Kathleen Man can't even disclose where she's shooting her movie "Lychee Thieves" on O'ahu. The trees heavy with the red, jewel-like fruit are just too much of a temptation.

"It's such a rich crop for farmers," Man said. "When there's a theft, it really hurts them."

Man, born and raised in Hawai'i, graduated from Punahou in 1992. She went to Yale to get her B.A. in film, then her M.A. and M.F.A. at the University of Iowa. She is an assistant professor in the film department at Vassar College.

"Lychee Thieves" is her latest in a list of award-winning projects, but the first to be shot here at home.

The story is about four local people, "who battle over harvesting rights to a miraculously bountiful lychee fruit tree." Man got the idea from a newspaper article about two people busted for lychee theft on the Big Island. She wove in a reference to the Chinese emperor. The finished film will be about 30 minutes long and is part of a larger project with two other stories filmed outside Hawai'i.

"They're all about outsiders feeling disconnected from a community, a common human struggle in our modern age," Man said. "A feeling and sensitive person is pressured by society to be detached and self-focused. That's very hard on the spirit."

"Lychee Thieves" will be filmed in August on O'ahu. However, the notoriously short lychee season is right now, so Man and her crew have already been filming scenes of the fruit. Photos of the shoot at the super secret site are on her blog at www.lycheethieves.com.

Man is looking for four lead actors and 15 others for speaking roles. An open casting call will be held this weekend. To schedule a time, e-mail a resume and headshot to casting@lycheethieves.com

She has three film interns with her from Vassar and would welcome other interns, high school and college students, on the shoot.

Man has backing from Vassar to pay for equipment and such, but pay for actors will be deferred. However, there could possibly be some lychee to taste on set, and you know, lychee is valuable.