Writer/director Hong Khaou draws upon his own experiences in Monsoonwith this moving story of a British-Vietnamese man returning to Saigon.
Searching for memories and connectionby Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Writer/director Hong Khaou draws upon his own experiences with this moving telling of Kit (Henry Goulding Crazy Rich Asians) a British-Vietnamese man returning to Saigon for the first time in over thirty years to try to find a fitting place to scatter his parents’ ashes.
Monsoon opens with a beautiful aerial shot showing a road being devoured by a swarm of motorbikes before a number of cars attempt to struggle their way through. As well as preparing the viewer for the constant soundtrack of Vietnamese bike and car horns, it is an effective metaphor for the protagonist’s own struggle.
We learn that Kit is back in Vietnam for the first time since his family left when he was six. He has scant memory of his time in Saigon and little knowledge of his parents’ time there but has returned from England to give his parents a final resting place in the country of their birth.
As we meet Kit he is alone, we learn he will later be joined by his brother, tired from travelling and trying to do the right thing for his late parents but, knowing very little of Vietnam, is unsure how to do it.
We are taken along on this journey of discovery for Kit as he deals with the emotional turmoil of bereavement at the same time as exploring his own cultural identity, feeling simultaneously like a tourist and someone with roots in a country foreign to him.
Two opposing moments effectively highlight Kit’s displacement: he mistakes Vietnamese Linh (Molly Harris, Artemis Fowl) for an American, but later on a train he is spoken to as if he may himself not speak English.
Kit reconnects with family friend Lee (David Tran, Farewell Berlin Wall) who helps him piece together fragments of memories while also revealing details of his family history which he never knew.
Pleasingly, Kit’s sexuality is no major plot point, but when he forms an attraction and connection with American Lewis (Parker Sawyers, Greta) we see a lighter side of the character. Lewis’ own connection with Vietnam, being the son of a war vet, gives a poignant contrast to Kit’s circumstances.
Golding carries the film on his shoulders and gives a soulful performance, wordlessly displaying both the pain of the loss of a parent and the uncertainty of not knowing if you belong. He perhaps convinces less when he occasionally roughs up his RP accent with a London twang.
Sawyers, Harris and Tran lend solid support. Tran in particular brings great depth as the childhood friend whose family did not leave Vietnam.
Monsoon is not for those with a preference for very plot-driven films with mood and emotion very much driving the narrative. It may also mildly frustrate viewers who place importance on learning character’s names: Kit’s own name is not revealed until almost the halfway mark.
Vietnam is beautifully framed but, while the cinematography is impressive, shots of Kit’s shirt billowing behind him on the back of a motorbike or standing quietly on a balcony become slightly repetitive.
Monsoon is certainly a natural companion piece to Khaou’s earlier feature Lilting (2014), a delicate gem dealing with a reverse cultural displacement and the pain of loss.
Monsoon is released in cinemas and on digital on 25 September 2020 in the UK.