(director/writer: Rodd Rathjen; cinematographer: Michael Latham; editor: Graeme Pereira; music: Lawrence English; cast: Sarm Heng (Chakra), Chan Visal (Samnang), Chheung Vakhim (Friend in Waterhole), Thanawut Ketsaro (Rom Ran), Mony Ros (Kea), Saichia Wongwirot (Kadir), Yothin Udomsanti (Danchi), Nhim Chhun (Kravaan, eldest brother), Sareoun Sopheara (Chakra’s Father); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings, Rita Walsh; Echo Studio/A Kino Lorber release; 2019-Australia- in English, Thai, Khmer, and Burmese)

“A stark character study of a child becoming a man while still a child.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The feature film debut of the Aussie Rodd Rathjen, best known for his short film”Tau Seru,” is a stark character study of a child becoming a man while still a child. The auteur of this thriller about human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry, tells the authentic but bleak simple tale with minimal dialogue and uncomplicated visuals. It was shot in Cambodia.

The bright 14-year-old rural Cambodian runaway, Chakra (Sarm Heng), refuses slave-like work in the family rice paddies back home and opts for factory work in Thailand. But along with others is betrayed, thinking that a boat was taking them for factory jobs, instead they’re sold to the evil Captain Rom Ran (Thanawut Ketsaro, a fabulous performance) and hustled off as slaves onto a 45 foot trawler and threatened to either work on the ship or be beaten as they fish in the Gulf of Thailand.

For security, the wary kid befriends an older refugee man, Kea (Mony Ros), and they try adjusting to enslavement in the hope they will be released in a few months, but Kea cracks and doesn’t make it.

Chakra is driven hard while on board with the other slaves. But the resilient kid learns to adjust to the sadistic captain and his armed crewmen. The kid witnesses that one of the slaves gets too sick to work and he’s thrown overboard. Someone who attacks the captain is hanged.

Chakra hardens his attitude, and schemes to ingratiate himself with the captain. He realizes he needs a good plan to get out of this predicament, and better be prepared to use as much violence as necessary. By the time we reach the climax, there’s little doubt that things will get bloody. Perhaps we’re as amazed as the evil captain, who secretly delights as much as the viewer is appalled, as the innocent boy turns into a monster (like the captain), in order to save himself.

The film has been selected as Australia’s Foreign Language Oscar nominee.

Of note, “This enslavement and murder at the sea, shown here of Burmese slave laborers, is commonplace in Thailand’s corrupt-cop-protected fishing industry, with some 200,000 boys and men enslaved on ships like this one.”