Kali Reis is a world boxing champion and a member of the North American Indigenous Athletic Hall of Fame. She’s also a gifted writer and actress, delivering a memorable performance in her debut film, Catch the Fair One, which she co-wrote with director Josef Kubota Wladyka.
Reis plays Kaylee, a former boxer who now scrapes out a living working in a diner while continuing to train with Brick (Shelly Vincent, also a real-life boxer). But Kaylee has something bigger on her mind—finding her sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrero), who has disappeared down the black hole of human trafficking, a threat so common it has its own acronym: MMIW or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Their mother Jaya (Kimberly Guerrero) runs a support group for people whose relatives have been trafficked, but the meetings don’t bring Kaylee peace—instead, she keeps seeing visions of her sister, dressed in a bright red coat, which gives her hope that Weeta is still alive.
When she gets a tip about what might have happened to Weeta, Kayla decides to take her search a step further by entering the world of sex work herself. That’s a dangerous undertaking, and Catch the Fair One doesn’t try to make it seem otherwise, but things get worse when she’s drugged and kidnapped by the pleasant-looking Bobby (Daniel Henshall), whose father Willie (Kevin Dunn) is the upper management, so to speak, of a sex ring. While Willie is outwardly brutal, Bobby is exactly the type of charming, apparently “normal” guy—he has a wife (Tiffany Chu) and son, and seems when he’s with them to be a warm and loving husband and father—required for the ring to interact with the everyday world. Any woman would know to run when she sees Willie, no matter how desperate her circumstances, but might well be taken in by Bobby, although it’s just an acting job: for both of them (and those who work with them) trafficked women are simply commodities to be used, abused, and sold at a profit.
Kaylee’s fighting skills and street smarts come in handy, beginning with the razor blade she keeps hidden in her mouth. She may be outnumbered and outgunned, and stranded in a remote location about which she knows absolutely nothing, but she fights for her life, and that of her sister, with a desperation and a ruthlessness that gives her a chance against long odds. There’s nothing new about brutality in action films, but there’s something immediate and personal about what you see in Catch the Fair One (including a waterboarding scene that leaves no doubt but that it is an act of torture) that gets past the “it’s only a movie” filter and makes it register.
The story of Catch the Fair One is a good fit for the directing talents of Wladyka, whose previous credits include the 2014 drug-trafficking thriller Manos Sucios (“Dirty Hands”) and several episodes of Narcos and Narcos: Mexico. He makes excellent use of Reis’s physical talents and intensity—her performance was recognized with a Special Jury Mention at the film’s debut at the Tribeca Film Festival—and Ross Giardina’s cinematography captures both the bleakness of Kaylee’s world and the intensity of her determination. | Sarah Boslaugh
Catch the Fair One is available in select theatres and on VOD beginning Feb. 11, 2022.