By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
In the movie The Rocket, irrepressible 10-year-old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) is more than just the black sheep of the family. He’s cursed because of a Laotian superstition that says those born as twins will represent the most opposite of extremes — either good or bad fortune will come. When his brother died at birth, making what he represents an uncertainty, Grandmother Taitok (Bunsri Yindi) thinks he will bring bad fortune to everything dear. That also includes holding on to the beliefs that the old country and traditions that Grandma represents. But for Ahlo, he can lay a spark for the future, if his people accept him.
Writer/director Kim Mordaunt beautifully shows that by creating a story of contrasts, darkness can loom anywhere. This country is certainly one plagued by remnants of a terrible past, namely the wars that threatened the country and the fact it was heavily bombed. But at another level, there is an eeriness that prevails whenever Alho wanders into a minefield or witnesses the haunting rituals of burying the dead. And it is not his fault that his entire family is uprooted.
A new dam is being constructed, and as a result, all the people living in the villages in the path of the new lake are being told they have to move. As one part of this film shows, the loss is not just about lives being changed, but a whole culture being buried under water. This socio-political commentary cannot go unnoticed, and fortunately that is not part of this film’s message.
Instead, this movie shows how people face adversity, unpopular opinion and change. That also includes Grandmother Taitok; her tale is just as remarkable to watch. Yindi’s performance is just as spirited, her spite can be felt on screen than read. But for both the main protagonist child arguing with his antagonistic matriarch, their challenge is how they can come to terms. Despite an animosity, she still looks out for her grandson and this direction is very touching. Toma (Sumrit Warin), the father, seems too wrapped around her finger to know what’s going on.
Viewer’s will be captivated at Ahlo’s coming of age tale when he meets Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) who becomes his adorable playmate and her uncle “James Brown” aka Purple (Thep Phongam) who becomes a strange Merlin-like figure to Ahlo. They become a surrogate family for him when his own are angry for all the calamity caused. The chemistry Disamoe and Kaosainam share is charming, and they do a great job as first-time performers.
When awards season comes, this film can easily be a contender to be this year’s surprise in the same way Slumdog Millionaire took the Oscars.
4½ Stars out of 5