DRAMA; 1hr 32min (Khmer and Thai with subtitles)

STARRING: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro

Not drowning: Heng

At 14, Chakra (first-timer Heng) is staring down the barrel of a barren future of unpaid work in a Cambodian rice paddy that is tantamount to slavery. Refusing to follow his family’s predetermined path and swayed by tales of cash-flush work in Thailand, Chakra turns to a people broker to smuggle him into Bangkok, only to meet enslavement once more on board a dilapidated fishing trawler.


Conditions at sea are draconian. The skipper (Kasro) is a gleefully sadistic killer, a cup of rice is the staple diet and the isolation of the ocean is crushing and absolute. All this Chakra accepts at first in the mistaken belief it is temporary, and that once he has paid his broker’s debt, he’ll be free to find the factory work he was promised. But for Chakra and the 200,000 real-life lost souls like him who service a $US6 billion international fishing industry from Southeast Asia, the only escape from the trawler is death.


The power of understatement is everywhere present in writer-director Rodd Rathjen’s debut feature, from Heng’s eloquent silences to the hushed misery that saturates every appalling scene. Even the sunlight looks defeated and faded, as though it, too, has sacrificed all hope. The implication, however, could not be more explicit: when your imperative is to kill or be killed, survival becomes a sacrifice of self. Chakra grows up hard and fast under pressure, but his future chances look more like another sentence.