1 hours 25 minutes | Rated M (Offensive language)
Kit, a British Vietnamese man, returns to Saigon for the first time in over 30 years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War.
Rare is the Western-made movie set in Vietnam where the central story doesn’t revolve around a Caucasian outsider, but this year we’ve seen Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods and, now, Hong Khaou’s Monsoon bucking this trend. Of course, these are thoroughly different films both in terms of visual style and narrative delivery, but what they have in common is more than just the removal of a white protagonist. Both intertwine themes of grief, trauma and dysfunctional familial bonds, while Hong, as he did with his award-winning 2014 debut Lilting, mines his own lived experience as a Cambodian-born Vietnamese refugee to tackle issues of identity and displacement with deep compassion.
Henry Golding takes a measured approach to Kit. After reconnecting with childhood friend Lee (David Tran) and becoming romantically entwined with an African-American designer, Lewis (Parker Sawyers), whose father fought in the war, he tries to fill in the blanks in his cultural memory while appreciating that the Vietnam he left is not the one he has returned to.
“Benjamin Kracun’s impressive cinematography captures just how hard Vietnam is trying to move on from its painful history.”
There’s a quietness to his performance as Kit grapples, mostly internally, with this disconnect from his heritage, enhanced by the intimacy of the camerawork. In one scene, the camera pans from Kit to his reflection in a window looking out on the country he feels distant from. A country that is trying to give itself a cosmopolitan makeover which Hong aptly highlights in two ways: through the characters of Lewis and young student Linh (Molly Harris), who are symbolic of Vietnam’s past and future, and Benjamin Kracun’s impressive cinematography that captures just how hard Vietnam is trying to move on from its painful history into the excitement of a new modern age.
Certainly, as The Farewell, Tigertail and an increasing wave of cross-cultural cinema washes up on Hollywood’s shores, Monsoon is a most welcome and empathetic addition.
Beautifully shot and subtly delivered, Monsoon offers a poignant picture of the emigrant experience as well as Vietnam’s post-war hangover, while cementing Henry Golding’s position as a leading man to watch.