The Rocket , Kim Mordaunt’s first feature film, explores the importance of family, culture, and home, in a country forcing its people from their land. Ahlo, a young boy who is believed to be cursed, and his family are forced from their land and moved to an overcrowded, unfriendly shanty town. After an incredible journey across Laos, seeking refuge, Ahlo tries to prove he is not cursed, by entering a dangerous rocket competition.
For the Love of Laos: The movie is set in Laos, and although it’s written and directed by an Australian it feels authentic. The use of the Lao language and a full cast of Lao actors helps to bring about this authenticity. It focuses on issues unique to the country. Mordaunt previously directed the documentary Bomb Harvest, about the unexploded bombs dotted throughout Laos, and this still features heavily in The Rocket, along with themes of alienation, homelessness and the loss of culture. It all works to create an impactful piece, that’s unique in its content and viewpoint.
It’s all about the Kids: The real stars of the show are Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) and Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam). Although the film occasionally loses itself lingering on the cuteness of their friendship, the kids are fantastic actors. They soften the film and give the tale a heartfelt center that all audiences will be able to connect with.
Juggling Act: The Rocket touches upon so many themes. The alienation and homelessness of the protagonists, the culture and tradition of the Lao people, the danger of the Lao landscape and the countless unexploded bombs that litter it. It’s a road movie and a coming of age story. It follows a high-stakes rocket competition and questions the political powers of Laos. It’s a story about family and country. While these themes are interesting and work well, in and of themselves, it’s difficult to keep up. Some important elements are forced to give way to others and the film can feel overloaded.
The High Stakes Game: Despite the movie being occasionally overloaded, it manages to build the tension well and keep the stakes high. It consistently holds interest because Ahlo, his family, and his friends consistently have so much at stake. Their lives and livelihoods are constantly at risk. A simple game between Ahlo and Kia, turns into something far darker and more suspenseful, as Ahlo gets closer and closer to picking up an unexploded bomb instead of a rock. The characters’ not only risk death in the final rocket competition, they are also depending on it for a home and enough money to settle. These high stakes culminate in the film’s finale feeling truly epic and grand in scale.