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.
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.– Director Leon Narbey talking about the film, in an interview with Russell Campbell in Illusions - 8, 1988, page 7
Original music by Jan Preston
Percussion and voices: Don McGlashan