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Illustrious Energy sees Chan and his older mate Kim prospecting for gold in 1890s Otago. Marooned until they can pay off their debts and return to China; they’ve been fruitlessly working their claim for 12 and 27 years respectively. Chan faces racism, isolation, extreme weather, threatening surveyors, opium dens and a circus romance. The renowned feature-directing debut of cinematographer Leon Narbey provides a poetic evocation of the Chinese settler experience; especially vivid are Central’s natural details — desolate schist and tussock lands, rasping crickets.


A perspective by Ian Pryor 29.07.2011

One of the most evocative — and unlucky — Kiwi films to emerge in the 80s was born from a couple of paragraphs in a book about Chinese goldminers. Illustrious Energy, the result, is the only movie (to date) to explore the many ...

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Comments (9)

 Denise Richards

Denise Richards

A really memorable film. Beautiful.

 Emily Holden

Emily Holden

Did I see they are going to do a digitally remastered version of this film to be released in cinemas?

 Paul Ward

Paul Ward | website

You can purchase Illustrious Energy (remastered) on DVD from here:

 Charles Eggen

Charles Eggen | website

As of 07 April, 2012, a digitally re-mastered dvd is available for purchase.
For further details go to:



Would love to find a Tape or DVD. Excellent film seen on big screen and also on TV

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These two people in a remote, rock-strewn, almost a moonscape landscape. Here they had, I mean it was a paradise in some ways, they had a vegetable garden, they had their chooks, they had their eggs, they survived, and yet they had to find gold to return to their families and honour, and they were sort of prisoners. I suppose it's a an obvious symbol, the cricket in the cage, but they're a bit like the crickets, held in a little valley. 


1988 Taormina Film Festival (Italy)
Bronze Charybdis (Third prize)

1988 Hawaii International Film Festival
East-West Centre Award (Best Film)

1988 New Zealand Listener Film and Television Awards
Best Director: Leon Narbey
Best Cinematographer: Alan Locke
Best Production Design: Jeanelle Aston
Best Musical Score: Jan Preston
Best Editing: David Coulson
Best Contribution to a Soundtrack: Bob Allen, Gethin Creagh & Mike Hopkins
Best Male Performance in a Supporting Role: Peter Hayden
Best Female Performance in a Supporting Role: Heather Bolton

1988 London Film Festival
Official Selection