Henry Golding leads the gorgeous Monsoon from writer-director Hong Khaou, a delicate study of displacement, queer identity and post-war healing. The feature, Khaou’s first since 2014’s Ben Whishaw led Lilting, receives a theatrical and digital release courtesy of Pecaddilo Pictures on September 25th.
Kit (Golding), a British-Vietnamese citizen returns to Saigon for the first time since in over thirty years, after fleeing with his family during the American-Vietnam war. Feeling like a stranger in his homeland, Kit attempts to reconnect with relatives, whilst navigating a building romance with American ex-pat Lewis (Parker Sawyers).
The opening stages of film set the sense of displacement that Kit feels as he navigates his former Vietnamese home and director Khaou finds an immense power in quiet sequences showcasing Kit quietly navigating his unfamiliar surroundings. A pre-title scene sees Kit settled in his rented apartment in the bustling city of Saigon before visiting extended relatives, delivering archaic gifts such as biscuits in a tin plastered with pictures of the Queen and a water purifier. Kit is out touch with his homeland and he is well aware of this – something that is only furthered as the narrative progresses.
Visually Monsoon is an interesting piece, Benjamin Kračun’s inventive camerawork proceeds to frame Golding in numerous wide shots against the Vietnamese backdrops, further highlighting his sense of displacement and isolation against unfamiliar surroundings. The use of birds eye shots on a number of occasions capture Vietnam as a place somewhat dissimilar to Kit’s migrated home of England – bustling roads filled with a plethora of swerving mopeds or the quiet beauty of a sea of purples when lilac tea being made, capture it as a beautiful but distant land to our protagonist.
Vietnam is presented as a country of grace, recovery, and tradition – one that Kit begins to familiarise himself with as the narrative progresses – despite never feeling quite like his connection with the country will trump that over his migrated home. Khaou dips into the concept of post-war Vietnamese life in the relationship between Kit and Lewis – the latter whose father served in the US armed forces at the time. Lewis quite keen to distance himself from America’s involvement notes he was tempted to stitch a Canadian flag to his rucksack, whilst later adding Vietnam has recovered with people focussed on dreams and careers – his disconnect shown in his willingness to sweep much trauma under a theoretical rug. Whilst there is charm aplenty found in the quiet relationship between the two men – there’s a tense undercurrent with Kit questioning why Lewis would remember the Vietnam war with pride after a flippant comment and the blasé manner with which he speaks about it.
Golding’s performance is one of the strongest of the year, an actor able to convey the film’s central themes and subject matter with mannerism and gesture, which never feel forced or unnatural. The actor captures Kit’s isolated, displacement with an emotive, yet quiet appeal with sequences of him navigating unknown or semi-familiar streets able to convey as much as large pieces of dialogue. Golding explores a sense of weariness as he spends the vast majority of the film’s runtime feeling like a fish out of water – even noting near the beginning his Vietnamese isn’t very good. Whilst Kit’s sexual encounters with American Lewis are racked in charm and flirtation, hook-ups with Vietnamese nationals are quiet, disconnected and more disposable, further capturing Kit’s disassociation with his homeland through the lens of his identity as a queer man.
Khaou has crafted a quiet and absorbing character study that conveys its themes in an unforced, compelling human manner. Golding’s rich performance and Monsoon’s intelligently-crafted narrative showcase concepts of displacement and reconnection with a delicate fortitude, whilst beautifully capturing post-war urban Vietnam.