In “The Catch,” Cambodian helmer Rithy Panh successfully reinterprets Kenzaburo Oe’s story of an African-American pilot caught behind enemy lines. Updating the narrative from WWII (the setting of Oe’s source and Nagisa Oshima’s 1961 film version) to the Vietnam War, Panh places less emphasis on the captive’s race; he’s more concerned with illustrating how the Khmer Rouge turned oppressed people against each other in order to fulfill its militaristic aims. Despite an obviously tight budget, the pic is well mounted and fest play is assured, though commercial outlook is grim.
Pic opens with devastating archival footage of the Cambodian bombings, with matching military commentary. Off camera, a plane crashes, and tough orphaned boy Pang (Chem Chuop) leads his gang to capture the surviving pilot (Cyril Guei). Given a nod for his bravery by Khmer Rouge soldiers, Pang has a hard time keeping his young gang in line and preventing them from empathizing with their prisoner. The helmer works well with his largely non-pro cast, while his direction shows a fondness for crane shots, hinting at a greater technical facility than the quality of the film’s HD lensing would suggest.