The Rocket is essentially a movie about redemption, set in the lush countryside of Laos. Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) was initially greeted with happiness when he was born. However when her mum Mali (Alice Keohavong) continues to have contractions, she realises that she’s having twins. Her mother-in-law Taitok (Bunsri Yindi) threatens that she should kill the second baby – we learn that twins are considered bad luck in Laos – one baby brings blessings, while the other is cursed. Thankfully (in such a superstitious environment), the second baby doesn’t survive – however, the stigma of being born as part of a set of twins continues to haunt Ahlo. Taitok is convinced that Ahlo brings bad luck to the family and the whole village – especially when his childish and stubborn demeanours cause the whole village to hate the family. When the whole family are forced to move to a different village, they come across the Rocket Festival, where the biggest rocket that can be launched successfully will be awarded a large sum of money. Ahlo is determined to show everybody that he is not cursed …
Sitthiphon Disamoe is delightful as the cheeky Ahlo – although there is a strong sense of sentimentality that runs throughout the movie, Ahlo naughtiness and childish stubbornness ensures that the movie doesn’t slip into a melodrama. You wish that he would be better-behaved – but the viewers are reminded as well that he is just a boy who is craving for acceptance. Alice Keohavong is also outstanding as a sassy and brave mother in the face of a domineering mother-in-law.
Kim Mordaunt – the writer/director behind The Rocket successfully creates a movie that celebrates the nature and life in Asia. The camera caresses every broad-leaved trees and lingers on the swaying indigo cloths, while also showing the sad impact of war in the region. The close collaboration between Mordaunt and Andrew Commis as the cinematographer can probably credited for the atmospheric depictions. While the movie is charming on the cinematography, the story that could have been more gripping and ‘engaging’ unfortunately leaves me lukewarm at the end. Like eating a bowl of hot soup, you thought you would get an explosion of senses but end up having mini bursts here and there. The shortcut that Mordaunt takes in telling the story makes the whole movie borders between a real drama and a lazy fairy tale – how can a boy know how to construct a rocket in two days’ time? Or know so much about electricity wiring when he spent most of his life without power and mod cons? This movie can perhaps be considered like a prequel to a Laotian MacGyver series.
It is evident that the production team has great fondness of Laos, the people and their culture and superstitions. You will probably be intrigued with the country, its history and its culture as well after watching this. The Rocket has many faults, but it is still a beautiful movie nevertheless.