KUALA LUMPUR — Standing on a deserted tropical beach battered by crashing waves, a woman in a blood-red dress observes a man from afar. He has just arrived on the remote Malaysian island she inhabits, and is on bended knees, inspecting fading tracks on the foreshore.

The man introduces himself as Samad, a university researcher on a mission to find and study the island’s rare population of leatherback turtles, and wants to employ the woman as a guide. Zahara, who is a stateless refugee, is unsure whether to believe him — Samad (played by Malaysian actor Bront Palarae) is
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