Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) is a young boy who was born a twin. Superstition in his village means that he is seen as bad luck and, when he mother is killed as the family search for a new home, his family begins to believe the old superstition. Ahlo leads the family through Laos, gathering two new friends on the way, in search of a place they can all belong, and call home.
The Rocket is a film that touches not only on the idea of family and finding a place where we belong, but on the depth of cultural traditions and the impact they can have on our lives. Ahlo struggles to shun the superstitions that surround him, having been born a twin – the other child was stillborn – and these especially come to light when he insists that his family bring his both with them when they move, only for it to fall and kill his mother in a freak accident.
There are touches of the wonderful Beasts of the Southern Wild about The Rocket, especially in the young performer Sitthiphon Disamoe. Although he does not have the rowdy, fierce independence of Hushpuppy, Ahlo is determined to not only be accepted, but to shake off the fears his family has for him. Disamoe is the emotional heart and soul of the film and, as he tries to understand the world around him, we root for him to prove superstition wrong.
As the family journeys, Ahlo befriends a young girl named Kia, played by Loungnam Kaosainam. The chemistry between these two old souls is wonderful as each try to overcome their past and teach the other what they know about the world. Sumrit Warin does well as Ahlo’s bewildered and grieving father, and Bunsri Yindi keeps the film firmly rooted in tradition, as Ahlo’s grandmother. The comic relief of the film comes from Kia’s uncle, known as Uncle Purple (Thep Phongam) for his love of James Brown and his insistence that he wear a purple suit similar to his idol’s. It is under Uncle Purple’s mischievous eye that Ahlo first gets into trouble and further cements his reputation as bad luck when he accidentally desecrates a shrine, but Uncle Purple also saves the children from danger and eventually gives Ahlo the tools to win his family’s respect.
Writer/Director Kim Mordaunt mixes tradition with the present day in The Rocket, and brings in many of Laos’s socio-political issues. The country was dragged into the Vietnam War, and unexploded bombs still litter the countryside, Uncle Purple fought on the ‘wrong side’ of the war and is vilified for this, as well as his love for James Brown and his seeming desire to shun Laotian traditions. As such, the film not only explores the country’s past, but hints that this is a land on the brink of change. The landscape is used to stunning effect, creating a beautiful and slightly magical backdrop to a beautiful and slightly magical film.
The Rocket is a beautiful tale of love and acceptance in the face of tradition, superstition and fear of the future. Sitthiphon Disamoe does a beautiful job at carrying the story and, even though the climactic scene runs a little long, it is hard not to root for this plucky and charming kid. There is every chance that The Rocket will be this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and, even though writer/director Kim Mordaunt tries to cram a little too much in, it is a film with a huge heart and a warm soul.