Blasting Away a Laotian Curse


Kim Mordaunt's The Rocket is about a child's at-times comic battle against the insanity of the post-war culture in Laos. In a country riddled with governmental corruption and inefficiency; in one spattered with the remnants of still-live bombs and other remnants of a lengthy, brutalizing bloodshed; and in one populated by impoverished communities often without such basic necessities as electricity and plumbing, the odds seem stacked against ten-year-old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) achieving any lasting happiness in this lifetime.

But matters get worse. He was born a twin, and in his society, all twins are immediately slaughtered because one is blessed and the other cursed, and it's impossible to tell which one has the devil within him. Luckily for Ahlo, his sibling was a stillborn, who’s secretly buried, so no one knows he was a twin except his loving mother Mali (Alice Keohavong) and his bellyaching grandmother who wishes he had never survived. Not even his dad is in on the subterfuge.

But Pops soon will be when Grandma spills the beans after the family's displaced because the building of a new dam will be flooding their town; Mom has a nasty confrontation with a canoe; and the new residence they were promised by officials is nothing more than dried-out land with a tent they have to build out of garbage scraps. It's all Ahlo's fault, Grandma insists with a malignant grimace. "He's a twin."

Ahlo, not exactly sure he isn't jinxed, doesn’t help matters out by stealing electricity, pilfering flowers from memorials for the dead, and making friends with an eccentric James Brown fanatic named Purple and his 9-year-old niece Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), whose family has died from malaria. (Purple’s gourmet specialty by the way is "Rat Pad Thai.")

Frustrated by their present circumstances, this makeshift group decides to look for a paradise on its own, only to discover hell upon hell, until coming across a homemade Rocket Festival in a lively little town that hopes the big bangs sent into the heavens will bring about some needed rain to a draught-ridden landscape. Guess who makes the winning rocket and wins a whole load of money for his family?

Never less than charming and stirring in its ability to recreate a childhood that overcomes chaos, The Rocket, abetted with a convincing cast led by two superb child actors and a production team grounded in documentaries, proves instantly why it's been winning accolades worldwide. Here's one of the first quality films to open Stateside in 2014. (Opens January 10 in New York and January 17 in Los Angeles.)