Shattering international audiences with Once Were Warriors (1994), his intensely scrutinizing study in urban alienation among the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, director Lee Tamahori was immediately courted by Hollywood. As with other successful overseas directors flirting with the almost mythological draw of the cinematic city, Tamahori's struggle to maintain his intensely personal style in the face of the increasingly difficult obstacles of the intrusive studio system serves as an interesting parallel to the struggle faced by the disillusioned and industrialized Maori people portrayed in Warriors.
Born to a Maori father and a British mother, Tamahori cut his teeth in the New Zealand film-industry as a boom operator in the late '70s, moving on to assistant director on such features as Maori-themed Utu (1983) and The Quiet Earth (1985) in the early '80s. Tamahori would go on to become a successful director of commercials before discovering Alan Duff's raw and controversial novel Once Were Warriors, which inspired him to attempt an adaptation for his first feature. Having the unique cultural perspective of being both of British and Maori descent (much like Warrior author Duff), Tamahori became attracted to the themes of the increasingly disinfranchized Maori in the face of British colonialism as portrayed in Duff's novel.
Though geographically specific in its portrayal of the indigenous Maori, the themes of a disappearing culture and a broken family so honestly conveyed in the film struck a chord with audiences worldwide, leading Tamahori to Hollywood, and attempts to revive the noirish conventions of the '50s in his follow-up effort, Mullholland Falls (1996). The hard-boiled drama of the crime-fighting hat squad suffered from an overcrowded cast and later comparisons to a similar and more focused L.A. Confidential (1997). Undaunted by the mounting speculation on his continued success, Tamahori next brought Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins to the outer reaches of the world for the nature adventure Edge (1997). In 2000, Tamahori helmed the sequel to the popular thriller Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider. Claiming that he relished the freedoms offered by independent film, Tamahori once commented that after making three American studio films, he would return to New Zealand to direct another independent film.
Of course, the prospect of returning to smaller independent projects is easier said than done given the lure of Tinseltown and all of its seductive trappings, and the silver haired helmer would remain stateside to direct what was without question his most demanding project to date, 2000's Die Another Day. The 20th film in the lucrative and enduring James Bond franchise, the elaborate production scored a direct hit with Bond fanatics and shifted gears from a more humorous tone to an action-packed spectacle in order to offer a stark contrast between Bond films and the anarchic wackiness of the Austin Powers franchise. Following Die Another Day, Tamahori would become involved with yet another franchise when he was announced as the director of XXX2, with his name also attached to such films as The Stanford Prison Experiment, Risk Addiction (formerly Basic Instinct 2), Deathlok, and The Guide, which reunited the director with Die Another Day star Halle Berry.