Screened as part of NZIFF 2011

Illustrious Energy 1988

Directed by Leon Narbey

A beautiful new restoration of Leon Narbey’s dramatic tribute to the Chinese immigrants who came to Central Otago for gold in the 19th century. “Magical, dream-like… holds you there, mesmerised.” — NZ Listener

101 minutes DCP



Don Reynolds
Chris Hampson


Martin Edmond
Leon Narbey


Alan Locke


David Coulson

Production designer

Janelle Aston

Costume designer

Trixie Woodill


Bob Allen


Jan Preston


Shaun Bao (Chan)
Harry Ip (Kim)
Peter Chin (Wong)
Geeling Ng (Li)
Desmond Kelly (surveyor)
Heather Bolton (Mrs Wong)
Peter Hayden (Reverend Don)
David Telford (Stan Pasco)


Best known, as a cinematographer, for the striking beauty of such diverse visions of New Zealand life as Whale Rider, Desperate Remedies and The Price of Milk, Leon Narby has recently supervised this superb digital restoration of the highly regarded but little seen feature he directed in 1987. The film is set in 1895, the year the New Zealand government imposed a £100 poll tax on any Chinese person entering the country. In this hostile climate a young Chinese man and his aged father-in-law are working abandoned gold claims in a Central Otago river gorge – and dreaming of finding the jackpot that would enable them to return with honour to their families in China. A hymn to dry grass, clear light and the rocky Central Otago terrain (much of it drowned by the Clyde Dam in 1993), Illustrious Energy distils the embattled life-force in men who never expected to end their days under southern skies, let alone put down roots and invigorate their new country. — BG