Henry Golding leads this homecoming drama from Indie filmmaker Hong Khaou. Telling a story that features a very personal storyline amidst a very specific cultural background can always be a challenge when it comes to reaching a wider audience. But there will always be elements audiences can relate to in some way, and in the case of Monsoon, that comes in the story of a man who feels alienated by his own homeland.
Goulding plays Kit, who is returning to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years after his family fled the country during the war between Vietnam and America. There, he aims to reconnect with the people and places that only exist as a hazy memory, as he looks for the perfect spot to rest his late parents’ ashes.
There is plenty going on here from a thematic point of view for many people to connect to, even though it is the journey of a Vietnamese man reconnecting, or struggling to reconnect, to a place he only knew as a child. Anybody who has left their home for a long period of time can relate to that disconnect that Kit feels upon returning to Vietnam. It is a disconnect that colours most of the relationships within the film, even as Kit looks to open up to his romantic interest, Lewis (Parker Sawyers). There are plenty of awkward conversations with cousins who are effectively strangers, and alienation caused by Kit having forgotten how to speak Vietnamese. There are also the doubts floating around Kit’s mind over whether this is what his parents would want, a feeling many of us can surely relate to.
Monsoon is clearly a drama about feeling disconnected. As a result, the film itself has a tone to it that is quite cold to the touch. Dialogue is minimal, awkward tension high, and as a result, the film makes itself quite hard to embrace on an emotional level. There’s not much of a crescendo of emotion, and what dialogue there is holds back too much, particularly in moments where it seems to come close to expressing more raw emotion.
Once it reaches its conclusion, there’s not a great feeling of reconciliation or much in the way of a sense that a journey has been completed. Its distance is part of its thematic concern, but ultimately the film keeps its audience too much at arm’s length, making it hard to connect to Kit’s experience. Goulding himself also seems to struggle in the role, with what few lines of dialogue there are often coming off as a little too stilted and contrived. The fact that he also looks a bit too young to convince as someone who left Vietnam when they were around eight years old in the early 70’s further distances you from the drama.
But where the film does manage to keep your attention is in the beautiful cinematography. Vietnam is presented in a warm and loving fashion, often feeling exuberant and alive thanks to soft lighting and well-composed framing. It’s a beautiful film, shot in a beautiful and unique country, and it makes sure to create a sense of Vietnam being a country with a complicated history, but is also developing into the future.
Monsoon passes by almost without you noticing. It is a very picturesque experience, but one that can leave you a little wanting when it comes to making a connection with the experience. It is a film that very deliberately plays its cards quite close to its chest, but you can’t help but wish it would let you in a little more than it does. As it stands, this is undoubtedly a beautiful film with a calm sensibility, a film about distance that remains a little too distant for its own good.
Dir: Hong Khaou
Scr: Hong Khaou
Prd: Tracy O’Riordan
DOP: Benjamin Kracun
Music: John Cummings
Country: United Kingdom/Vietnam
Run time: 85 minutes
Monsoon is in UK cinemas and on demand from September 25th 2020.