R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th April 2020).
The Film

"Buoyancy" (2019)

Chakra (played by Sarm Heng) is a 14 year old boy in rural Cambodia working in the rice fields for his family. Looking for an escape from the poor and harsh lifestyle, he takes an opportunity as many do to work in Thailand in a factory or in construction. Without telling his family, he sets off on a journey along with a few others arranged by a local broker by illegal circumstances. Hoping to reach a factory as promised, his journey to prosperity instead is a road to slavery, as he is sold off to the malicious fishing captain Rom Ran (played by Thanawut Kasro).

"Buoyancy" claims that over 200,000 people have been enslaved by the southeast Asian fishing industry, and while the film is not based on one particular account, it is a story inspired by the ones able to escape as well as the many who weren't as fortunate. For the film's perspective, a teenager's perspective was chosen, at the particular pubescent age of change physically and mentally. The character of Chakra questions why he has to live in a household of many siblings in which the father cannot adequately provide for his family, relying on the help of his own children in the fields and in deliveries. Upon hearing from friends that money can be made by crossing the border where manual labor is easy to find and the pay is much higher than staying and working in rural Cambodia, Chakra sees it as the best choice for his own welfare. On the way across, he befriends Kea (played by Mony Ros), a father looking to find better work to support his family. After they get trapped on the fishing boat, it's clear that Kea is the one who is scared, paranoid, and without hope from escaping. He even claims he cannot swim and has nervous convulsions throughout. The loss of his freedom, the chance he may never see his wife or children again, drowning in the open seas - what goes through his mind is very different from the young boy. Chakra never seems genuinely phased by the situation. He had left his life behind for good. He no longer has a family, no home to return to, and while he was not expecting fishing, he was set to make a living by hard work and adapting.

The captain and the first mates are quite cruel to the Cambodian and Burmese slaves, in which they do not share the same language makes arguments impossible. The captain makes sure the slaves stand their grounds with brute force, but sees something quite different with Chakra. The young boy is not one to complain about things. When the net underwater is caught in the propellers, he is able to swim under and help. He starts learning Thai from their conversations and is able to speak some of his thoughts. But it is never about wanting to go home or wanting better treatment. He learns from them that the only way to rise above is to learn from them, become like them, and gain their trust. Chakra will never be able to return to having a normal childhood, witnessing sickened slaves being thrown overboard, violent clashes between men, and living in inhumane conditions.

Although it features Cambodian and Thai performers with the languages being Khmer and Thai, it is an Australian funded piece with an Australian writer/director. "Buoyancy" was written and directed by Rodd Rathjen as his first feature length film following some award winning shorts. Using a selection of many non-professional actors and newcomers, the production is very minimal with the amount of characters as well as dialogue, but has created quite an effective film with the limited resources available. The performances are believable and the threats and desperation from the characters are genuine as well. The film made its premiere on February 17th 2019 at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. In addition, the film received the Best Youth Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Best Indie Film at the AACTA Awards, and many more at international festivals throughout the year. Umbrella Entertainment in Australia has given the film its first home video release on DVD.

Note this is a region 0 NTSC DVD.


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 2:35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement in the NTSC format. The photography looks excellent, showcasing the rural landscape of the ricefields with luscious greens and dusty browns, while the sequences on the boat show the blue skies and beautiful waters against the harsh realities on board the old ship. Detail is wonderful showcasing depth and detail, and there are no major issues such as macroblocking or other errors to speak of.

The film's runtime is 91:59.


Khmer/Thai Dolby Digital 5.1
The original Khmer and Thai mixed soundtrack sounds excellent as well, with clear dialogue being showcased mostly from the center speaker while music, effects are used in the surrounds. From motorcycles whizzing by, the sounds of the ocean waves, as well as the minimalistic score by Lawrence English give the surrounds a great deal to work with. Dialogue is never overshadowed by the music sounding well balanced at all times.

There are burned-in English subtitles for the main feature. The font is a little small, but is legible and is free of spelling or grammar errors.


Unfortunately there are no extras included on the disc. The film starts when the disc is played and the disc stops when the film ends. The trailer which is not on the disc is embedded below, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment.


The packaging claims the disc is region only, but is in fact region 0.


"Buoyancy" is quite cruel as the issue is with human trafficking and slavery, but the a coming of age story in the environment is a fascinating and unfortunate tale. The Umbrella Entertainment DVD is very good in picture and audio quality, but sadly lacking supplements of any kind.

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A Extras: F- Overall: C


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