The Rapidian Home

Reshaping perspectives: The Rocket takes on culture in a new way

"The Rocket" is a story of youth, culture, tradition, and community in Laos, featuring confident performances and brilliant wilderness settings.

The Rocket

Directed by: Kim Mordaunt

Written by: Kim Mordaunt

Length: 96 minutes

Rating: NR

Now playing at: UICA through March 13.

Please visit the UICA website for showtimes.

The Rocket is an unexpected and fresh take on usually-tired themes of poverty, tradition, and conventionality set in government-run Laos. It is foreign and yet emotional, building our trust and gaining our sympathy throughout. This Australian film is carried by the confident performance of young Sitthiphon Disamoe and the subtle reactions of his father. The director, Kim Mordaunt, pieced together an example of how to revitalize traditionally stale cinema motifs and the film was worthy to be Australia’s nominee for Best Foreign Film in the Oscars for 2013.

The film opens with young hero Ahlo, played by Disamoe, who is born while his twin doesn’t survive the voyage out of the womb. Ahlo’s grandmother (Bunsri Yindi) is dismayed; their cultural laws state that twins always bring good luck with bad, each twin carrying one of these identities. Not knowing which one will be the bearer of their misfortune, she demands that the boy be disposed. Ahlo’s mother (Alice Keohavong) refuses, begging to save the child. This is where Ahlo’s rocky relationship with his surroundings and within his people’s traditions begin.

Mordaunt, who also wrote the film, shows great tact in refusing to overbear us with character stereotypes. After such a daunting opening act, we’re weary to accept that Ahlo is the “lucky twin.” As in a military/government run oligarchy, villages such as Ahlo’s are uprooted constantly, making way for giant infrastructure projects. Is this the result of the curse Ahlo’s grandmother desperately wanted to avoid? Would their village have been spared had Ahlo’s life not been?

This film was strikingly fresh considering the many parallels to 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, which is an exploration of poverty and community set in the deltas of southern Louisiana. Both films are led by confident and convincing young stars, focusing on their trials and frustrations growing up in environments with constantly shifting obstacles. In both films, it is the elders who are educated by their younger counterparts on how to adapt to their surroundings and embrace what they can out of life.

The Rocket has a resounding third act, neatly summarizing the barriers and aspirations of young Ahlo and his family with a rocket building competition. This climax is a grand celebration filled with resonating explosions, luminous rocket displays and of course, a “moment of truth” for young Ahlo and his father (Sumrit Warin). While some would stamp the ending as expected or routine, the stakes of the outcome combined with the beautiful setting (filmed in Laos and Thailand) make for an impactful finish after a difficult and yet rewarding film about a young boy finding his identity, straddling the gap between tradition and progress.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.