In his magnetic feature-length debut ‘Lilting’, director Hong Khaou keenly observed a mother and her deceased son’s boyfriend as they poignantly tried to overcome the language barrier, to find a commonality in their respective grief.
Now he looks to deploy a similar delicacy and quiet power in ‘Monsoon’, drawing inspiration from his own experiences of initially moving from Cambodia to Vietnam, before arriving in the UK at a tender age. Tasked with leading us on this trip? The Crazy Rich Asian who has had little issues up to now carrying out simple favours, Henry Golding in a role that sees him become far less reliant on his undeniable charm.
The hustle and bustle of its striking opening aerial shot of Saigon, instantly implies this is a city that is thriving. One that has rallied from the horrors of its well-documented past. But through such radical changes, lies the moral dilemma facing Golding’s protagonist Kit, who returns after an absence spanning three decades.
Originally escaping the violence that terrorised the city during the Vietnam War, he remains adamant this is the place fit to scatter his parent’s ashes. But he is soon challenged through the eye-opening experiences shared with three key figures. The creative drive of Linh (Molly Harris), his distant cousin named Lee (David Tran) and ambitious American love interest Lewis (Parker Sawyers), who also has familial ties with the war. It quickly becomes apparent that Kit is a lost soul, who now feels like a tourist thanks to the unintentional alienation from his home country.
Fleeting sexual encounters with other men through dating apps., the Skype chats with fellow family members without catching a glimpse of their faces, the isolation of Kit is so subtly realised by Hong Khaou through its scripting and directorial choices. Light on dialogue to emphasise the lack of clarity in his cultural voice, whose regular silence is deafening. Lingering close-ups of Golding’s face and its regular use of wide shots to dial up his sense of loneliness.
He’s crying out for connection and whilst the glacial pace of his journey may be misinterpreted as meandering along with not being to everyone’s tastes. It’s a thoughtful story that is high in its potency, considering the horrid attitudes towards immigrants and the harmful discourse on immigration, that has been enforced throughout modern society. Establishing a contrast with Kit’s muted nature is the kinetic energy of its setting, with Khaou almost aiming for a romanticised version of Saigon as he remains still with the camera, allowing you to bask in the outward serenity that Kit is seeking within himself.
Propelling his leading man into far deeper emotional waters. The performance Khaou draws out of Henry Golding is sublime and may just earn him a new legion of fans, dialling down the charismatics for a more graceful approach with Kit, whose clear comfort in his own sexuality is at odds with his uncertain sense of place. United in such dislocation is Parker Sawyer’s impressive turn as Lewis, with the poignant navigation of each other’s past amongst the simmering romance injecting much purpose into the film, just when the narrative occasionally threatens to come to a standstill.
A gorgeously shot, illuminating journey of reconciliation and self-discovery. Whilst a touch anti-climactic, the elegant ‘Monsoon’ is further proof Hong Khaou is quickly becoming one of the most distinct voices in British cinema.
Directed by: Hong Khaou
Written by: Hong Khaou
Cast: Henry Golding, Parker Sawyers, David Tran, Molly Harris