The Rocket: A boy and his Dreams

by Mark Burger

Writer/director Kim Mordaunt’s award-winning drama The Rocket offers a touching coming-of-age story and also a fascinating glimpse into the culture of Laos, where the film is set and which is very much a pivotal character in the proceedings.

Sitthiphon Disamoe, a very impressive newcomer, plays the pivotal role of Ahlo, a bright and resourceful boy whose family is being relocated by a powerful corporation. The promises of payment, prosperity and placement to a better home prove empty ones, as they are relegated to living – or existing – in what might best be described as a makeshift shanty-town.

Although Ahlo makes a friend in Kia (adorable newcomer Loungnam Kaosainam), bad luck seems to dog his every step, much to the frustration of his father (Sumrit Warin) and the consternation of his grandmother (Bunsri Yindi, in her screen debut), who considers Ahlo cursed – and doesn’t hesitate saying so.

Western influence has gained an unexpected and sometimes uneasy footing in Laos. The landscape is littered with unexploded bombs, and Kia’s boozesoaked uncle (Thep Pongham) is nicknamed “Purple” for his attire, inspired by his adoration of James Brown. He even grows his hair like Brown’s and occasionally breaks into some trademark “Godfather of Soul” moves, with mixed (but humorous) results.

The abundance of explosive materials at hand has inspired some of the populace to throw an annual “Rocket Day,” in which they launch home-made, hand-made rockets into the sky – both to appease (or annoy) the gods and, more importantly, to earn cash prizes. For Ahlo, whose young life has so been marred by tragedy, his is a quintessential underdog story, as he vows to build his own rocket and compete in the contest.

Andrew Commis’ beautiful cinematography and Caitlin Yeo’s expressive score augment The Rocket’s flight, which is sure and steady throughout – and eloquently anchored by Disamore, its young leading man.

The Rocket is scheduled to open Friday at a/perture cinema, Winston-Salem. (In Lao with English subtitles) !

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