PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

The Past and Present Clash in 'The Rocket'

Even as the plot sets up for redemption and lessons learned, The Rocket maintains another, subtler focus.


The Rocket

Director: Kim Moraunt
Cast: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Thep Phongam, Bunsri Yindi, Sumrit Warin, Alice Kohavong
Rated: NR
Studio: Kino Lorber
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-01-10 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

"A new home could be a good thing," offers Mali (Alice Keohavong). She sits with her family on the floor of their hut in Laos. Recently informed that their village will soon be under water owing to a new dam project, Mali looks forward to promises of electricity and running water, but her mother, Taitok (Bunsri Yindi), pokes at the fire, seeing only the worst ahead: "And leave our traditions behind?" The camera in The Rocket here cuts to Taitok's 10-year-old grandson Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe), blocked by her arm stretched across the frame toward the fire. He looks from Mali to his father Toma (Sumrit Warin), both silenced by the old woman's glower.

Ahlo has his own sort of experience with Taitok, who at the moment of his birth pronounced him cursed, being a twin. His sibling died that dark night, rendered in hectic imagery at the start of Kim Moraunt's movie, while little Ahlo screamed and his mother with Taitok to spare him. The metaphorical point is clear: Ahlo is born into a chaotic world, where traditions are at once threatened by corporate decisions and sustained by village elders, where change is both inevitable and distressing. Seeming to his grandmother the very incarnation of such trouble, Ahlo is burdened with the blame when tragedy strikes the family en route to their new home.

Here, Ahlo finds a friend, Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), herself an unlikely survivor, following her parents' deaths by malaria. Now living with he uncle Purple (Thep Phongam), Kia is lovely in every way, sincere and open-minded, full of hope and admiring of Purple's particularities. An earnest James Brown fan (he wears a purple jacket that matches one the Godfather of Soul wears in the poster on his wall), he spends his evenings drinking and gyrating. The other villagers regard Purple and Kia as outcasts, leading Toma to worry about his son's association with them. His concern becomes even more pronounced when Ahlo -- still apparently plagued with bad luck -- determines that he'll make the money his family needs to buy land by entering a rocket contest.

Even as all this plot sets up for redemption and lessons learned, The Rocket maintains another, subtler focus, less Disneyfied and more perceptive. For while Ahlo plainly embodies tensions between past and future, fear and hope, he's also a kid, curious and brash. At the same time, he provides both frame and reflection for Uncle Purple, also caught between times, a self-medicating war veteran both perplexing and audacious. When Ahlo jerry rigs the electricity in the village so Purple can watch James Brown videos, you see the rapturous result -- Purple's arms snapping and hips thrusting -- while Ahlo races through the village, hoping to avoid Toma's frustration and wrath.

The intercutting of these scenes on beat with "Get on the Good Foot" is not only entertaining filmmaking but also underscores lingering effects. These have to do with the ecstasies of James Brown and also the trauma of war, when Purple fought with Americans against the Pathet Lao. He reveals this trauma in his drunkenness as much as in his expertise regarding leftover munitions, the "Sleeping Tiger" (half-buried missiles or mines) that still threatens the village. In Purple's example, so erratic and so perplexing, Ahlo and Kia discover how history can inspire movement or retrenchment.

The lesson is sometimes harder for their elders to absorb, so intent on feeding their families or coping with offscreen corporate or government forces. The film spends a bit of time setting the kids' optimism against the adults' doubt and dread, an opposition that finds its culmination in the rocket contest. ("I want to build rockets!" Ahlo exclaims; Kia observes, "You're such a boy!") Everyone is invested, from the Buddhist monks who teach Ahlo how to assemble a bamboo body to the villagers who dunk losers in a muddy river.

As each contestant climbs a ladder to launch his rocket, the camera watches from below, the sky endless and the light changing. The judges look not only for how far it travels or how bright its blast but also, whether it will appease the gods from whom they seek rain for their parched land. And so again, the film looks again at the difference Taikot voiced early on, between tradition and change. Turns out it's not an opposition as a transition, a means to bring together experience and invention. If this is a familiar story, here it's also new, reflected in the kids' understandings -- smiles wide or tentative, legs and arms churning as they run through forests and shafts of light the camera rushing to keep up with them.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.