at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The Rocket


Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 7:00 PM
Center for Korean Studies Auditorium

Laos/Thailand/Australia (2013, 96 min)
Lao w/English subtitles

Director: Kim Mordaunt
Screenplay: Kim Mordaunt, Miro Bilbrough (script editor)
Cinematography: Andrew Commis
Costume: Woranun Pueakpan
Cast: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Suthep Pongam, Boonsri Yindee, Sumrit Warin, Alice Keohavong

A special pleasure of moviegoing is sitting down with low expectations and coming out with surprised delight. “The Rocket” will do that for you. It’s a small film, set in Laos, with a big theme—changing one’s destiny. The hero, 10-year-old Ahlo, carries a curse almost from birth. He’s supposed to be bad luck, and he does have a gift for creating chaos wherever he goes. But he has the great luck to be played by a former street kid, Sitthiphon “Ki” Disamoe, whose irrepressible verve confers plausibility on this feel-good fable. (So does Andrew Commis’s stylish cinematography.) Kim Mordaunt’s debut feature was shot with a mostly nonprofessional Laotian cast. You’d never know, though, that the amateurs hadn’t had extensive experience.

Laos gives the action a haunting context—a nation, scarred by the Vietnam War, where unexploded American bombs, or “sleeping tigers,” still lurk in the fields. After Ahlo’s family experiences a string of disasters that include the loss of their home and land to a giant Australo-Laotian hydroelectric project, the kid goes forth with his father and grandmother in search of a place to live and a way to survive.

“The Rocket” is ultimately a canny piece of entertainment in which Ahlo gets a chance to redeem himself, and save his family, at a local rocket festival. Yes, such things do exist in Laos. They’re county fairs of a sort, competitions that ring changes on the nation’s history by firing rockets back at the sky that once rained bombs, awarding prizes for the missile that flies highest. Watching Ahlo mix his explosives is like watching a Cordon Bleu chef whipping up a stupendous soufflé.

-Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

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