Sitthiphon ("Ki") Disamoe - Ahlo
As one of 7 children from a poor rural family living close to the Lao/Thai border, Ki's family could not afford to support him and he ended up as a street kid, selling sweets and begging on the streets to survive. One day, while asking for money for water, he met his current foster mum Bua, who was taken by his extraordinary charisma, wit, toughness and humour. Bua, who was doing some work as an extra in films, brought him to the attention of The Rocket's casting director Raweeporn Jungmeier. He started doing small roles as an extra on some TV shows. The Rocket is 10-year-old Ki's first major role in a film.
Director Kim Mordaunt: "As soon as we met Ki we knew he had all the qualities of Ahlo. Ki's life on the street has given him resilience, resourcefulness and a "go get" attitude to never give up at whatever he tries. He is a survivor. Long periods of screen tests and rehearsals were mostly directed at engaging imagination and memory to draw on deep emotional truths that he could re-access during a demanding shoot."
Sumrit Warin, who plays Ahlo's father Toma in The Rocket, says of Ki: "Ki, just like Ahlo, is stubborn, naughty, likes to make his own decisions, but he is complex and has real sadness in his life. He drives me crazy but I love him at the same time."
Loungnam Kaosainam - Kia
Loungnam was born and grew up in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and is currently in primary school there. She was discovered for The Rocket through a small local drama group in Vientiane, where she had had small roles in some local productions. Director Kim then spent time just observing 8-year-old Loungnam and filming documentary footage with her, and was struck by her complete honesty and lack of inhibition. She was a real tomboy, who could outrun all the boys in the school playground, but with a mesmerizing natural beauty (enhanced by her missing two front teeth!) and an engaging mix of innocence, toughness and wisdom. Even if a camera was on her, Loungnam would be totally herself and her imagination fired strong. As soon as she was presented with story of The Rocket she embraced it wholeheartedly, finding Kia in herself.
From the time Ki and Loungnam were cast, writer/director Kim went back to the script and re-wrote, injecting Ki into Ahlo and Loungnam into Kia. After a shaky start during rehearsals, when Ki and Loungnam fought ferociously due to their different backgrounds, a tender friendship developed between the two, and they became extremely close. The filmmakers were fortunate to capture this growing love on film as it developed, which made the scenes between Ahlo and Kia in The Rocket very real and moving.
By the end of filming, Ki was leaving love notes for Loungnam on set. Highly experienced actor Thep Phongam, who plays Purple in The Rocket, became a devoted mentor to both Ki and Loungnam during the rehearsal and filming process.
Thep Phongam - Purple Thep
Phongam, is an actor, comedian and writer of Lao heritage, born in 1949 in a small rural town in the Lao-speaking Issan region of Thailand, close to the Lao border, which is populated largely by Lao migrants and war refugees. He has over 35 years experience as one of the most popular screen actors in Thailand, in serious dramatic roles, action roles and in comedies and on his own TV shows. He speaks both Lao and Thai.
Thep's performing career started when he joined a troop of traveling rural outdoor movie screenings (at the daily rate of 5 Baht - 20 cents) and got the chance to live-dub the cartoons at the outdoor screening show. When the troop lost its popularity after 7 years, he had to take a job as a labourer at a charcoal factory. He later gained labouring work with a famous country band headed by prominent singer/songwriter Pleon Promdan that traveled throughout the countryside. Here he met comedian Den Dokpradoo, who encouraged him to join with the group of comedians as a pre-stage show before each performance of the band. His fame started from there, then joining various groups of stage comedians during his 30 years of stage career that grew into TV shows and then movies.
Thep has starred in over 35 Thai movies, in roles such as the leader of a gang of inept hitmen in Mue Puen Lok Phra Chan (Killer Tattoo), a slayer of zombies in Khun Krabii Hiiroh (SARS Wars), an aged heavy metal rock star in Rock Not Die and an imposter doctor in Dumber Heroes. His feature Friday Killer, by cult Thai director Yuthlert Sippapak, in which Thep stars as a troubled assassin trying to reconcile with his daughter, won the Jury Prize at the 2010 Shanghai International Film Festival.
Bunsri Yindi - Taitok
Bunsri spent the early part of her life moving between Vientiane (capital of Laos) where she worked as a maid, and Thailand's Lao-speaking Isan region, where she ran a small restaurant. Bunsri entered the film industry at age 50 when she was cast as a charming villager in a series of mobile phone commercials. Her breakthrough role came in Thai director Jira Maligool's Mekhong Full Moon Party (2002), which won the FIPRESCI Award at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. She then went on to play the mother of lead actor Tony Jaa (Thailand's Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan) in the inventive martial arts action romp Ong Bak, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and became one of the highest ever grossing Thai movies, distributed worldwide by Luc Besson's Europacorp.
Sumrit Warin - Toma
From a rural background, Sumrit's film experience prior to The Rocket was as a stuntman in Thai films, and international films shot in Thailand such as Rambo 4. Says Sumrit: "For me, The Rocket was very exciting as it gave me the opportunity to be a character with a story and emotions, rather than just someone who was shot at, hit or stabbed!"
Says director Kim Mordaunt: "For the role of Toma we needed to find a man who lived quietly in his physical self, connected to the land and deeply soulful. A father, who with his deep loss, would take us into his anguish as if we were Ahlo witnessing it - a boy watching his father, wanting to make it better, wanting to reconcile. We saw many actors who were much more experienced than Sumrit, but it was Sumrit's simple honesty that made his grief raw and convulsive, riveting in its truth - and this made him right for Toma."
Alice Keohavong - Mali
The child of Lao war migrants who left Laos following the Secret War and subsequent Communist takeover, Alice now lives in Sydney, Australia. She completed a degree in Creative Arts majoring in Performance at the University of Woolongong. She has appeared in numerous stage productions in Sydney, and had small roles in TV dramas and short films. Having worked extensively with children as a puppeteer with a children's cancer charity and as a drama teacher, she became a much-loved mentor to Ki (Ahlo) and Loungnam (Kia) in their roles on The Rocket. Alice was "discovered" for The Rocket when director Kim was conducting auditions in Sydney's Lao community at the Lao Buddhist Temple in western Sydney.
Producer Sylvia Wilczynski: "We are proud and privileged to have found Alice for her first feature role in The Rocket, which we are sure will launch this beautiful and talented young woman to a great future. The bond that we see on screen between Ahlo and his mother is very real, as Ki (who plays Ahlo) absolutely adored Alice and she him." Alice: "Playing the role of Mali was like discovering part of myself, connecting more deeply with my Lao heritage.”