Why does cinema exist?
To tell stories of course! And it’s even better if the stories come from enigmatic exotic lands – such as Laos. The 2013 Australian film The Rocket, written and directed by Kim Mordaunt, invites its audience to journey into a land little known to the world: foreign customs and traditions, a distinct living environment, still surprisingly familiar traits of humanity and of the power of determination.
Ahlo, a young Laotian boy, is kept alive by his mother despite the superstitions of his tribe against twins (expressed through his grandmother who helped at childbirth). It seems that the superstition is that one of the twins is supposedly a reincarnation of evil – so no twin is usually allowed to live within the tribe. Later on in Ahlo’s life, a tragedy strikes and the superstitions and fears are remembered.
When Ahlo is ten, his family is forced to move, by government forces, as a new dam is to be built and the valley they occupy is to be submerged under water. The move brings unexpected consequences.
The plot of the film doesn’t shine with originality. We have all seen numerous Coming-of-Age tales about a young protagonist who, faced with a sudden change in his life, has to find in him/herself the strength and determination to overcome seemingly impossible barriers (prejudice, a tragic death in the family, social and physical limitations – to name but a few).
So once the challenge is revealed (in The Rocket it is a rocket launching contest), the ending to the film becomes quite predictable. Yet, the beautiful cinematography, set locations and, most of all, the performance of the young cast makes the film worth seeing.
The character of ten-year-old Ahlo is vividly portrayed by the charismatic Sitthiphon Disamoe. A first time actor, he has a similar life story to that of the renowned Brazilian actor Fernando Ramos da Silva, who starred in Pixote (1981). A street kid coming from one of the poorer neighborhoods of the city is chosen by a film director to be in his film. The director recognizes the boy’s raw talent and naturalness in portraying emotions, as opposed to obviously acting. Disamoe appears to have been as equally unruly as De Silva was. I stumbled upon an article in the Bangkok Post that stated that he had run from home and “has been found in an internet cafe in Bangkok nearly two weeks after he disappeared“.
Disamoe is witty and full of energy. It is not an overstatement to say that the director managed to display the essence of boyhood (with its ups and downs). For example, in one of the first scenes, he is shown laughing on a tied swing. It’s a scene filmed with a slow motion technique that ensures that the viewer immediately establishes a connection with the character on screen.
The other significant child actor in the film is Loungnam Kaosainam in the role of Kia, a little girl who becomes Ahlo’s best friend (and his guiding light in a metaphorical sense). She also delivers a credible performance – fully capable of melting the hearts of the audience with her sweet, innocent appearance. The character development in the film for all but these two child-actors (and sometimes even for them) is rather weekly executed as many things about the characters are implied in a manner that is more confusing than explanatory.
While everyone could benefit from an inspirational, feel good-story, young audiences (especially boys – because hey – playing tricks and launching a rocket is somehow so boyish in its essence) are likely to enjoy the film the most while associating themselves with the young protagonist and cheering him on the way of achieving his goals.
The Rocket – Official Trailer
Watch the entire film on Amazon Instant Streaming: