News / Arts & Entertainment

Q&A with Kim Mordaunt: ‘The Rocket’

The Rocket is Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt’s first feature film after a career in documentaries.
The Rocket is Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt’s first feature film after a career in documentaries.
Ray Kouguell

A story about a young boy overcoming obstacles and family problems is really nothing new, but an Australian movie called The Rocket puts a whole different spin on those ideas.

A ten-year-old boy in Laos named Ahlo seems to bring bad luck to his family. He is the surviving twin at birth and believed to be cursed according to local tradition, a belief reinforced by his ill-tempered and superstitious grandmother. Life goes on without incident until Ahlo’s family is forced to relocate because of a dam building project that will flood their village. That’s when trouble begins. Ahlo’s mother dies during their move through the countryside to a shanty town after a government promise of a new house, good land, water and electricity. More trouble follows.

Ahlo befriends Kia, a 9-year-old girl, and her strange uncle named Purple, both considered village outcasts. Purple is an enigmatic yet charismatic dysfunctional man obsessed with the American soul singer James Brown, complete with purple suit and Brown’s hairdo to match. Purple is also a drunk, hooked on rice wine.

Ahlo ignores his father’s warning to stay away from them. Through their association, Ahlo ends up accidentally causing a series of mishaps including a fire that eventually lead to their banishment. They hitch a dangerous ride out aboard a bomb disposal truck hauling cargo left over from massive American bombing raids during the 1970s.

The journey takes them to a rocket festival where Ahlo is determined to win the prize that would buy them a new home and end all the misfortune that’s been blamed on his birth. Ahlo’s rocket entry, literally fueled by Purple’s bizarre knowledge of explosives and bat guano, provides a stunning conclusion to their odyssey through the Laotian landscape.

The Rocket is Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt’s first feature film after a career in documentaries. VOA’s Ray Kouguell spoke with Mordaunt, based in Sydney, about the two young characters who are the movie’s heart and soul, and how his previous work influenced the decision to choose Laos as the setting.

Q&A with Kim Mordaunt: ‘The Rocket’
Q&A with Kim Mordaunt: ‘The Rocket’i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

MORDAUNT: It was one of those things that took the producer and I to that region ten years ago and we ended up living in Hanoi and working in Vietnam and traveling a lot to Laos. It wasn’t really a conscious decision to make a film. It was more about we lived in the region and then came to make a documentary there which was Bomb Harvest. That really was a reaction to going to the country of Laos and finding out about its history and just going “my God, why don’t we know about this country?” So really it was sort of a reaction to living and working in that region.

KOUGUELL: During the filming in Laos and Thailand, was one location more difficult than the other?

MORDAUNT: I’d say definitely Lao. Thailand’s got this really well-oiled film industry and so in terms of bringing on support crew and in terms of getting access to locations [it’s much easier]. Whereas in Laos, because it’s still a Communist country, there’s still censorship, there’s still a lot of red tape. That was very difficult but we did shoot the rocket festival, all that’s shot in Laos. All the landscape you see in the film is Lao.

KOUGUELL:  What was it like to cast the film and communicate with your cast?

MORDAUNT:  That’s not easy. It took a long time to cast the film. And first of all, the producer and I did a lot of traveling around both Laos and the Lao-speaking area of Thailand. Then we worked with a casting agent and eventually we found the little girl in a small drama group, a sort of puppet drama group, on the outskirts of Vientiane which is the capital of Laos. I think she just had a very, very strong sense of self.

And for him, we’ve been looking a very long time and he waltzed through the door with all that attitude and he had been a street kid for a couple of years, so he’d learnt to survive in any way he could. So he was a great little wheeler dealer, a great little talker. Anything he put his hands to, he could sort it out. That aligned really well with the character of Ahlo. I was working through a translator. But then again I’ve also been around the language for a good ten years now. You’re working with play, you’re working with imagination. You’re working very physically. I’m watching their eyes, I’m watching their body language and you’re trying to find truth on all those levels.

KOUGUELL: The rocket festival is certainly key to the film. Are such rocket festivals common in other Southeast Asian countries?

MORDAUNT:  You’ve got them in Thailand but it’s the Isaan people in Thailand, many of whom are Lao heritage. But in Thailand, it’s probably more of a formal event. You know, they’re big rockets but it’s often sponsorship. It’s a little bit more formal whereas in Laos it’s still very wild west and you get many more rocket festivals in Laos. They happen all around the country at the end of dry season for the calling of the rain.

KOUGUELL: In addition to the fascinating narrative you put together in the movie, would you say there’s really some underlying message?

MORDAUNT: Thematically it’s about, I guess, first world countries recognizing the impact they have on third world countries, not only in war but in industry and then on a very personal level. I think the main message is that there’s this country with incredible courage. I think the people of Laos are very courageous, and very spirited people who have suffered greatly but who are trying to survive. And it is an underdog story which is something I think we recognize all around the world.

KOUGUELL: There is much to savor in The Rocket more than just the unusual location and story. There are great performances from Sitthiphon Disamoe as Ahlo,  a marginalized twin who seeks redemption, Loungnam Kaosainam as Kia, the young girl who effectively portrays a sweet fearlessness of her own, and Thep Phongnam as the crazy Uncle Purple whose absurdities are a perfect match for all the indignities surrounding them. Director Kim Mordaunt shows a great eye for telling their story about tradition, pain, and optimism in a world rarely seen. The Rocket is well worth the ride.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.