by Emily Murray
Six years after making his feature debut with the critically acclaimed Lilting, writer/director Hong Khaou is back with another affecting and beautifully told story about identity.
Monsoon follows Henry Golding’s Kit as he journeys to his birth country of Vietnam to lay his parents to rest. Having grown up in the UK though, Kit is a stranger in a place he barely remembers, and thus begins his search for connection.
Born in Cambodia, Khaou then spent his childhood years in Vietnam until his parents migrated to the UK as political refugees when he was 8 years old. Drawing from these personal experiences, although it’s important to note the film isn’t autobiographical, Monsoon understands the nuances of cultural identity, and the way this can become a tug-and-pull. A tourist in the country he grew up in, Kit is disappointed when he doesn’t recognise places from his childhood, also shaken by how much Vietnam has changed in the years since he fled it.
The dialogue is minimal as not much has to be said, Golding’s elegant performance as Kit perfectly conveys the sense of displacement he experiences as he wanders through the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City, feeling lost, isolated and overwhelmed. There is a gracefulness and subtlety to both Golding’s portrayal and the film overall, as the camera gazes at Kit through reflections and windows, echoing the sense of detachment he feels to his surroundings.
A sense of intimacy is still felt though, and it is easy to be drawn to Kit thanks to Golding’s natural charisma, although this is a different charm to the one of his characters in hit movies Last Christmas and Crazy Rich Asians.
David Tran is also fantastic as Kit’s second cousin Lee, whilst Parker Sawyers is equally brilliant as Lewis, an African-American living in the city where his father spent time serving in the war.
This historical and political context adds more meat to the bones of the story, also bringing to the forefront of the conversation the actions of both Lewis’ and Kit’s parents, and how they haunt the next generation, for good or for worse.
The relationship that develops between Kit and Lewis feels natural, also helping to externalise the former’s inner turmoil allowing us to gain a deeper understanding of it.
Meanwhile Molly Harris’ Linh represents both the past and future of Vietnam, a young woman who feels indebted to her family business which is struggling to find a home in modern VietnamA scene which sees Kit join Linh as her family delicately makes their lotus tea by hand is handsomely shot, filling the screen with stunning vibrant colours.
The film is elegant in its quiet meditation on the themes of torn identity, culture, family and belonging, and whilst it may be too subtle for some, it is a poignant portrait that is particularly striking in the current Brexit climate which sees immigrants demonised daily.
Monsoon is out in cinemas 25th September