3.5 stars
Ahlo, a ten year old boy from a remote, Laotian village, is bad luck. His grandmother is convinced of it, that he's born with the curse of a twin. And she may have a point, bad luck is following his family like the proverbial – their village is being levelled in the name of progress, they're relocated to a shanty and when his mother tragically dies, even Ahlo begins to believe the superstitious old crone.

Australian director Kim Mordaunt's acclaimed film – it collected plaudits at both Berlin and the Tribeca Film Festivals – is a natural extension of his 2007 documentary Bomb Harvest which chronicled the secret war in Laos, and the thousands of unexploded warheads that still threaten the country. The Rocket is steeped in his obvious familiarity with the political and cultural landscape of Laos, and his own reflections on the collateral damage of the war in Vietnam. Yet The Rocket is not a gloomy film, far from it.

Ahlo's touching friendship with a young girl and her colourful Uncle Purple (an anarchic devotee at the temple of James Brown) keeps him grounded, so come the annual rocket festival, the boy sees an opportunity to turn things around for him and his family. Mordaunt's compelling coming of age tale is a winning combination of exhilarating location and sturdy performance (Disamoe is simply terrific as the youngster). He effortlessly captures the country's cheerful, chaotic spirit - the rocket festival is a boisterous event with a terrifying disregard for OH&S – while engaging a valid discussion about Laos' determination to rise above its wartime legacy, and a boy's determination to rise above his curse.

Although the film builds a troubling rhythm, in part because of Mordaunt's enthusiasm to pack everything and the village well into his story, a lot because of Balibo editor Nick Meyer's brisk style – The Rocket is that rarity which would have actually benefited from taking extra time to slow down – it is a minor note in an otherwise resounding film that engages, entertains and even provokes much needed discussion about an unspoken and ongoing travesty.


Previewed at Hoyts Studio 12, Entertainment Quarter, Sydney, on 9 May 2013

4 stars
The Rocket, directed by Kim Mordaunt (whose documentary Bomb Harvest received a standing ovation when it screened at the Sydney Film Festival in 2007) is a little gem. It won a number of awards at the Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals and, more recently, won the Audience Award at this year’s SFF – strong praise indeed! Set against the backdrop of war-ravaged Laos, the film brings a little known ritual to a world-wide audience. It also launches the career of the young Sitthipon (“K”) Disamone, who plays Ahlo, a young boy who has to fight for his and his family’s survival.

Ahlo is a surviving twin, which causes a great deal of anxiety for his superstitious grandmother. She blames him for bringing bad luck to the family and a series of unfortunate events only serves to compound her suspicions – one, in particular, causes the family, together with Ahlo’s new-found friend Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her eccentric uncle Purple (Thep Phongam), to set off across Laos to find a new home. Eventually arriving at a not very welcoming village, Ahlo sees an opportunity to change his grandmother’s mind… and his family’s fate. The annual Rocket Festival is being held to encourage the onset of the monsoon rains, and the builder of the highest-flying rocket will win a lucrative prize.

Disamone’s performance is utterly convincing; he exudes a charisma on screen that is quite extraordinary. Mordaunt has said that he knew they had the right actor for the part as soon as he met the young boy because he came from a life lived on the streets that gave him “resilience, resourcefulness and a ‘go get’ attitude to never give up.” And it is this strength of character that has helped him deal with the harsh and emotional moments in his life.

The supporting roles are also magnificent, including the very watchable Loungnam Kaosainam and Thep Phongam, who has over 35 years of experience as one of the most popular screen actors in Thailand. His channeling of James Brown is one of the film’s many high points. Bunsri Yindi plays Taitok, the fierce grandmother and Ahlo’s parents are played by Sumrit Warin as the father and Alice Keohavongas as the mother. Shot in beautiful Laotian locations, enhanced by Andrew Commis’s (Beautiful Kate) excellent cinematography, The Rocket is a riot of colour and action. But it is the intensity of Mordaunt’s gripping, and at times heartbreaking, script that makes this a spellbinding 96 minutes. Don’t miss this Aussie/Asian treat.


Previewed at Sony Theatrette, Sydney, on 17 June 2013

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Sitthiphon Disamoe
Loungnam Kaosainam
Thep Phongam

Kim Morduant

Kim Morduant



98 minutes

August 29, 2013
The Rocket (2013) on IMDb
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