Handsome handsome Henry Golding stars in this new drama by Hong Khaou (Lilting) about a man returning to his home country and trying to come to terms with his past and all the things he’s lost. But don’t think this is Crazy Rich Gaysians, Khaou has something more rewarding in store.
Lilting was one of the stand out LGBTQ films of 2014, a poignantly sad tale of grief, told with stunning cinematography and a gentle, immersive pace. Monsoon finds Khaou examining some similar themes from a very different angle.
Kit (the very handsome Golding) returns to Vietnam after his family fled the country during the American-Vietnam War. While reconnecting with Saigon, old family friends and the continuity of his own family history, Kit unearths some previously unknown facts about his parents. Along the way, he meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an American fashion designer living and working in Saigon. What starts as convenient sex and companionship slowly grows as Kit waits for his brother to arrive to complete his trip.
Khaou luxuriates in long shots. Monsoon opens with an aerial shot of a busy intersection and the chaos of cars, bicycles and pedestrians all organically finding their way. Later a similar aerial view of lotus flowers being prepared to make tea becomes one of the film’s most stunning visuals and a not-too-subtle comment on how the best things take time.
Golding brings an easy charm to Kit. It’s good to see him given real material to work with rather than just the ‘handsome man’ roles Hollywood offers him (did I mention he’s handsome?). Golding has an everyman quality, serving as an avatar for the audience in the world of the film. The character of Kit has an appealing manner than he can turn on in an instant, it’s the moment right before and right after that reveal his depth.
Khaou knows how to feed the viewer information at a slow and intriguing pace, building to rich, memorable moments. One scene on a train unfolds with Kit sitting down across from an old Vietnamese woman. What starts as a polite interaction deepens as it is clear Kit sees a reflection of his late mother in this stranger. A previously unnoticed man appears, the woman’s husband, and Kit is faced with two strangers who represent the life his parents left behind. It unfolds without dialogue in a single shot, an elegantly simple sequence that reveals so much about character.
Kit’s displacement and distance from his environment plays out in a series of carefully framed scenes (windows and mirrors are a recurring motif). Most of Kit’s conservations are filmed to keep him visually separated from the people he’s talking to.
Monsoon is a beautiful, mood of a film. Languid in pace, it is the sort of film in which nothing happens and yet at the same time, everything changes. It grows on you and becomes more rewarding as it progresses.
By Chad Armstrong
Monsoon plays the BFI LFF and will receive a wider UK release in Spring 2020.