A Laos-set coming-of-age fable driven by naturalistic performances
From The Raid to Metro Manila, it seems the fashion right now to see English-speaking directors head over to Asia to make films. But while the aforementioned were both thrillers, The Rocket is a very different proposition. Set in Laos, it’s a coming-of-age fable driven by naturalistic performances and a poignant atmosphere of loss.
It’s written and directed by Kim Mordaunt, a filmmaker from Australia who comes from a documentary background (including Bomb Harvest, which looked at how Laos was the most bomb-ravaged country in the world, with kids selling unexploded shells for scrap). And it’s this experience in shooting the real world that shines through The Rocket.
The story follows 10 year-old Ahlo (street kid Sitthiphon Disamoe), a surviving twin who – his superstitious grandmother believes – is cursed with bad luck. Such accusations continue when the family and other villagers are forced to abandon their ancestral homes to make way for a new dam, and so Ahlo, his grandmother and his father hit the road to trek through their war-torn land.
Along the way, Ahlo befriends a 9 year-old girl named Kia and her eccentric uncle (Thai actor/comedian Thep Phongam), a purple-clad James Brown devotee who colluded with the Americans during the Vietnam War. They make for an unlikely bunch of misfits – not least in the scene where they all board a motorbike and sidecart – as The Rocket turns road movie in the second half.
Along the way, there’s a rocket contest that’s Ahlo’s path to redemption – but this is no October Sky, awash with heartwarming Hollywood sentiment. Some will find the narrative too slow, too ponderous, but Mordaunt goes in on the ground and stays there. This is no tourist’s eye view but one that sees the world through the eyes of a child, in a quietly telling way.
Selected release from Fri 14 Mar.