As a young boy, Jonny Kealoha studied traditional hula with beloved hula master teacher Auntie Margaret (played regally by Hawaiian music legend Marlene Sai), who did her best to instill in him the core values of their culture. Now an adult, Jonny finds himself in the spotlight as the charismatic host of a cheesy Polynesian lū`au show in Waikīkī. Rife with tacky decor and outdated routines, the show struggles to find an audience and leaves Jonny completely removed from the sanctity of his childhood hula studies.
Caught up in the trappings of making a living in the “big city” of Honolulu, he lives a monotonous lifestyle of local dive bars and the empty conquests of eager tourists.
One night, at his favorite hole-in-the-wall, in an area where you would never find a tourist, Jonny gets the news of Auntie Margaret’s dire condition from the bartender/sage Linda (played by actress Kelly Hu like you’ve never seen her before). No one is more incredulous than Jonny himself when, at her deathbed, Auntie Margaret appoints him as her successor to instruct her class of high school boys’ hula class. Jonny reluctantly takes on the daunting task of leading the boys through the rigors of training, discipline and practices in traditional hula, something he knows little about.
This is much to the dismay of Napua, Auntie’s most accomplished student, who has trained and graduated as an official hula master teacher and whom was expecting to receive that honor. What ensues is the moving and often amusing encounters between Jonny and the boys, who are looking for a leader in their passionate pursuit of excellence in the art of hula. Everyday life also serves as a distraction, Jonny with his job and his lifestyle, and the boys with their various lives at home. One student, Kaleo, struggles with his love for football and the unorthodox ways of Jonny's instruction. Another student, Solomon, is in constant conflict with the ancient traditions of Hawai`i and his Christian beliefs. Still others, Yosh, Le`e and Timo, battle the pressure of following one’s passion versus others’ expectations, finding time to practice with the burden of family obligations, as well as dealing with cultural and generational misperceptions. Napua's strict discipline and deep knowledge makes their process even more difficult, stressing the idea that hula is more than just a dance. It is a lifestyle and a traditional to be taken seriously and with pride.
In the process, everyone learns to work together as they prepare to present their dance in the prestigious Royal Hula Festival, representing countless generations before them.