“The Rocket” — Film Review

3.5 out of 5 stars

I’m a sucker for movies about kids overcoming difficult circumstances. Especially when the child actors are great—my favorite being Truffaut’s “400 Blows”. While “The Rocket” may not be in the same league, the actors are excellent. The story introduces us to Ahlo, a young Laotian boy whose grandmother pronounces him cursed at his birth when his twin is a stillbirth.
The ten year old (a brilliant Sitthiphon Disamoe) is a plucky and ambitious kid, and no amount of poverty or adversity seems to phase him, even his hateful grandmother. When the family is told they will have to relocate because of the building of a new dam, they begin a journey to their new homestead. On their way, tragedy befalls them once again, unleashing more venom towards Ahlo from his grandmother and even his father.

When they get to their new location, they find nothing is prepared and are forced to live in a makeshift shantytown. There Ahlo befriends a girl and her amusing uncle called Purple—he has a James Brown fixation, hair and all. Ahlo has a knack for getting into trouble and soon provokes both family’s eviction by the irritated shantytown community.
The motley group journeys through a land that has many unexploded US bombs (from the Vietnam era) littering and endangering their movements. Soon Ahlo finds out about a local rocket contest and decides he is going to win the prize for his family and put an end to his cursed reputation.

Director Kim Mordaunt previously made a documentary about the lives of Laotian children living off scrap metal collection, and this seems like a logical extension. The story gets a bit disjointed and unrealistic with the rocket contest, but the atmosphere, the acting, and Ahlo’s redemption is inspiring. It’s especially young Sitthiphon Disamoe’s performance that makes this film worthwhile.

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