The Rocket

Jan 29, 2014

One of the best films of the year.

The Rocket

Grade: B+

Director: Kim Mordaunt (Boom Harvest)

Screenplay: Mordaunt (Survival)

Cast: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnman Kaosainam

Runtime: 96 min.

by John DeSando

Tired of the Oscar race and its obviously-baiting nominees? The Rocket, set in Laos, is more unusual and imaginative than anything you will see, even Her, under the Oscar umbrella. Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe), a surviving Laotian twin at birth and therefore potentially bad luck for his family, travels with his family and two friends to find a new home after being displaced by plans for another dam.

Not only is Ahlo played by a new young actor who keeps your sympathy, but also Kia (Loungnman Kaosainam), his girl friend (he can’t be more than 10 and she about 9) is equally charming and intelligent. Their journey is plagued by setbacks, yet Ahlo remains intrepid and creative as he finally plans to nix this curse and become a hero.

So far the film is filled with bizarre adventures, mostly suggesting he is a curse on the family as bad luck plagues it (It’s not Little Miss Sunshine’s pleasant turbulence; however, Rocket’s family is an eccentric crew). One of the most interesting fairs to be seen ever in film is the Rocket Contest, held each year to send missiles to the clouds to induce rain, to “poke the gods’ arse,” or something like that. This event is the Holy Grail of the family’s journey, a way to gain prize money and to counter the bad karma of Ahlo’s birth.

The natural performances of Beasts of the Southern Wild echo in The Rocket, both leads believable as intrepid young, underprivileged waifs of pluck and imagination. The relationship between Ahlo and his loving but too vulnerable father, Toma (Sumrit Warin) is reminiscent of father and son in Vittorio DeSica’s Bicycle Thief.  Caitlin Yeo’s original score, never obtrusive, like the film itself, tells the story with dignity and respect for the characters.

Writer-director Kim Mordaunt has balanced the disparate elements perfectly.  And best of all, it is not some exploitative tome about the emerging third world. It’s about family! Its formulaic nature and slight drift to the sentimental do not keep it from being an original work of merit.

The Rocket, winner of the World Narrative prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, is one of the year’s best movies with a plot as imaginative as anything else out there.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at