Despite some dark edges, this crowd-pleasing Laotian drama is far too heartwarming for its own good. It recounts an engaging story through the eyes of colourful, likeable characters, but it's so relentlessly cheerful that it ends up feeling like a myth rather than something that might actually happen. That said, it's hard to wipe the smile off your face at the end.
The story centres on cheeky young boy Ahlo (Disamoe), who was born under a local curse in his tiny village: he's a twin whose sibling died in the womb. His mother (Keohavong) protects him from his more traditionalist, feisty grandmother (Yindi), while his father (Warin) creates a loving home for everyone. But all of this is upended when the government decides to dam the river and flood their valley. The family is moved to a grim wasteland shantytown, where they become outcasts when Ahlo befriends Kia (Koaosainam) and her drunken Uncle Purple (Pongam). Moving on, they travel to another town that's just about to hold a major rocket-launching competition. And Ahlo is sure he can win with Purple's help.
With the tone of a fable, the film encompasses personal tragedies, the strain of traditional beliefs in a modern day and the legacy of the Vietnam war (there are unexploded bombs everywhere). And all of this is seen through the eyes of the relentlessly optimistic Ahlo, who can't help but look forward to the possibilities in front of him. He's such a clever, curious kid that we never take his birth curse seriously, and Disamoe holds the film together beautifully, charming us at every turn.
It also helps that the people around him are a lot more complex than we initially think they are, as the actors add realistic layers to their characters. Most enjoyable is Pongam's lively Purple, a James Brown wannabe who's both trapped in the past and able to give Ahlo a glimpse of the world around him. So it's strange that the script sidelines him for much of the final act, when his input might have added some prickly energy. On the other hand, filmmaker Mordaunt seems to be reminding us that young people need to seize the day to help a troubled nation escape its past. And if Laos is full of kids like Ahlo, its future is bright indeed.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 29th August 2013
Distributed by: Kino Lorber
Production compaines: Red Lamp Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 53 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Kim Mordaunt
Producer: Sylvia Wilczynski
Screenwriter: Kim Mordaunt
Starring: Sitthiphon Disamoe as Ahlo, Loungnam Kaosainam as Kia, Thep Phongam as Purple, Bunsri Yindi as Taitok, Sumrit Warin as Toma, Alice Keohavong as Mali