After releasing his debut film in “Lilting” in 2014, writer/director Hong Khaou is ready to share his second feature with the world. A different story but still one that’s around grief, culture, figuring out who you’re really are, and finding your place in the world. In his “Monsoon,” he adds even more emotional and human elements to this already outstanding success formula. The result? A beautifully shot, subtle performed, and almost ‘documentary-like’ second film.
“Monsoon” takes us to Saigon, where we follow the return of Kit (Henry Golding), a British Vietnamese man, who had to flee his country because of the Vietnam-American War. After being away for more than thirty years, he’s ready to face his complicated past, the things and people he left behind, and the possibility of building up (literally and figuratively speaking) a new future. While there’s not much known about his parents, we find out that his family was very well-loved. His emotional and challenging journey begins by reuniting with his distant cousin Lee (David Tran). Despite being family, their way of life couldn’t be more different. Lee is still living in the traditional Vietnamese ways, while Kit has picked up the Western lifestyle due to which he feels like a tourist in his home country.
While trying to reconnect with Saigon, he meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), a local designer who brightens Kit’s life. Both men are drawn to each other, and the thought of finding a new boyfriend gives Kit hope about his future. During his time in Saigon, Kit encounters Linh (Molly Harris), a Vietnamese woman who’s also torn apart between living her own life in the non-traditional and cultural way and the traditional lifestyle. It makes him wonder about his purpose and what’s he looking for. Will it be possible for him to connect his difficult past to a hopeful future?
It doesn’t take long to discover that Kahou has a distinctive and personal style. He lets emotions speaks for itself and keeps dialogue to the minimum. The only spoken conversation in the first ten minutes or so is between Kit and the man guiding him toward his new apartment. While there are more emotional and in-depth conversations, emotions and facial-expressions have the upper hand. There’s also almost no soundtrack in this movie, apart from right at the end. You would think that without dialogue and music, the film might feel a little bit dull? Not at all!
The performances are very subtle and full of emotions, and they are the best guides through a city and lives you might not know. Golding (“The Gentlemen,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) is leading this movie in the strongest way possible. Whether it’s by spoken words or just by body-language, he brings the confusing feelings his character is having beautiful over to the audience. It is not only Kit’s confusion about his current lifestyle with the more traditional one in Saigon but also his feelings about his sexuality.
Golding is being surrounded by a fantastic cast. Sawyer’s (“Greta,” “Rex”) performance as Lewis is a very layered one. He shines in bringing both the understanding and loving side of Lewis to life and the more headstrong (it’s totally understandable why) side. Harris (“Artemis Fowl”) gives a voice to the young generation everywhere which faces the same dilemma as her Linh. She does that in a very subtle but also intense way. Another fantastic performance is Tran’s one as Lee. With his emotional and touching way, he shows that, despite his character living a very traditional life, Lee’s still capable of understanding why Kit’s return to his home country is such a difficult one.
As mentioned before, this movie is mostly based on emotions and human non-verbal interactions, and it’s not only the stunning acting that makes the audience keep on watching. There’s also the beautiful cinematography created by Benjamin Kracun (“Beast,” “Beats”). Thanks to that, everyone can (re)discover the city through Kit’s eyes and feel both his confusion and love for the country. That beautifulness of the country is heightened more because of the many slow pending long shots that are being used. There’s no score in this movie (apart from at the end), but the atmosphere is beautifully created by the noise of the authentic cars, scooters, and the vibrant market.
While “Monsoon” won’t be everyone’s taste due to the similarities of the topics, but if you’re looking for a stirring, emotional, touching, and subtle but remarkable performed movie, then this is one you definitely need to see.
25th September 2020
THE QUICK SELL
Kit, a British Vietnamese man, returns to Saigon for the first time in over 30 years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War.