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An 'Emerald Cowboy's' resolve to make the cut

The film chronicles exporter Eishy Hayata's rise in the sometimes dangerous gem trade.

October 10, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"Emerald Cowboy," the story of Eishy Hayata, self-proclaimed world's leading emerald exporter, splits into two incongruent parts. It opens with Hayata, a Tokyo-born Japanese American, departing his Los Angeles home for his Bogota headquarters, where in examining an uncut emerald, is reminded of a similarly shaped gem he encountered 25 years ago, thus triggering a flashback. Hayata, who looks to be around 60, is a trim, fit well-dressed man with a quietly forceful personality.

Luis Velasco, who plays the young Hayata, doesn't look at all like the emerald magnate. He is bigger, bulkier, movie-actor handsome, and worse, has a bland personality.

With degrees in economics and engineering, Hayata heads for Colombia to seek his fortune as an "emerald cowboy," trading in emerald directly from mining towns. These opening sequences have the amusing feel of a western, and the conditions in the mining regions of Colombia are definitely that of the frontier. A beautiful young woman, Susana (Eva Varella), shows Hayata the ropes; they fall in love but she must return to Venezuela to care for her ailing mother. He strikes up a friendship with Dave (Ricardo Wilke), and over the years they prosper, with Hayata eventually becoming a partner in Dave's mines.

Hayata marries another beauty, Aurelia (Carolina Aristizabal), and they start a family. When one of their daughters barely escapes kidnapping -- the first of eight such attempts against Hayata or a member of his family -- he resettles his wife and children in Arcadia. But the demands and his impassioned pursuit of his business leave him little time to commute between Bogota and Los Angeles, and this eventually costs him his marriage.

Suddenly, the film moves forward to the mid-'90s, and Hayata returns to play himself, emerging as a tough but fair guy as he stands up to a corrupt union. That the confident Hayata is quite effective at playing himself as a wise and courageous hero makes the matchup with the Hayata of the flashbacks all the more unconvincing.

"Emerald Cowboy" is rich in authentic locales but is unevenly directed by Andrew Molina and is hazy in its chronology. Hayata's story in all its myriad implications might well have been better told in documentary form. Hayata portrays himself as a beneficent boss who inspires loyalty from his employees but seems not overly concerned with the roots of Colombia's horrendous political, criminal and social ills. There seems little question, however, that Hayata is a fearless man who loves the art of the deal and seems to get a kick out of taking every kind of risk.


'Emerald Cowboy'

MPAA rating: R, for language and violence

Times guidelines: Some bloodshed

Eishy Hayata...Himself

Luis Velasco...Hayata as a young man

Ricardo Wilke...Dave

Eva Varella...Susana

Carolina Aristizabal...Aurelia Hayata

A Burn Pictures release. Producer/co-director/editor Andrew Molina. Writer/co-director Eishy Hayata. Producer/art director Eva Hayata. Cinematographer Byron Werner. Music Joe Kraemer. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes.

Exclusively at the Edwards South Gate 20, 8630 Garfield Ave. (562) 927-4432; the Edwards University 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine. (949) 854-8818. Opens Oct. 17 at other selected theaters.

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