Director: Hong Khaou
Cast: Henry Golding, Parker Sawyers, David Tran, Molly Harris
Runtime: 1 hr 26 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Homosexual Content)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 12 November 2020
Synopsis: Kit (Henry Golding, CRAZY RICH ASIANS) returns to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time since he was six years old when his family fled the country in the aftermath of the Vietnam-American war. Struggling to make sense of himself in a city he’s no longer familiar with, he embarks on a personal journey across the country that opens up the possibility for friendship, love and happiness.
‘Monsoon’ is as far from the breezy ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ as it gets, so those expecting its star Henry Golding to reprise a similar role as the sleek plutocrat Nick Young from the latter will likely be sorely disappointed. Instead, Golding is here playing a somewhat disillusioned immigrant named Kit, who returns to Saigon where he had lived as a child to rediscover his past, his identity and his next steps.
Unfolding at a very deliberate pace, writer/director Hong Khaou’s sophomore feature (after his 2014 debut ‘Lilting’) aims for a thoughtful and meditative piece which demands that you pay close attention to its subtleties in order to understand what is being conveyed. You’ll have to be observant to catch Kit’s discomfort when he finds himself unable to communicate with his aunt because he no longer speaks Vietnamese; just as well, you’ll have to discern why Kit’s aunt frowns when he gifts them a water bottle that has a filtration device attached.
Helping Kit on his voyage is his second cousin Lee (David Tran), whose family had stayed in Vietnam all this while and who now runs a modest mobile phone business. That latter detail is important later on to understand why the reunion between them is somewhat fraught throughout, as if Lee is both curious yet resentful to welcome Kit back. It is only at the end that we find out why Lee is behaving that way, so like we said, you’ll have to have the patience to sit through many slightly awkward exchanges before finding out why they were that way.
Much less ambiguous, though handled with the same minimalism, is Kit’s sexuality – primarily through his hookup with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), who had moved to Saigon just months ago to set up his clothing business. Lewis’ father had fought in the Vietnam War, and like Kit, his unacknowledged baggage continues to weigh on him. In time, both will come to challenge each other to come to terms with their personal demons, and the relationship forged between them is quietly affecting.
‘Monsoon’ plays out largely as a three-hander between Kit and Lee, as well as between Kit and Lewis. Most of the other supporting characters are fleeting, with the exception of Linh (Molly Harris), a local art curator who steadfastly refuses to follow in her parents’ footsteps in the tea scenting business; there is a fascinating scene which sees Kit being invited to a scenting session with Linh and her folks, surrounded by flowers at their feet.
Contrary to what its title may suggest, there is no tempest of emotions or any sort of outpouring throughout the entire 86-minute duration; indeed, it can feel much longer if you’re not in the right frame of mind, given how measured it is paced. It also refuses to dramatise the internal struggle within its characters, which can therefore feel vague and sometimes frustrating to get. But if you’re willing to accept it on its terms, ‘Monsoon’ can be lyrical, nuanced and even beautifully resonant, each of which can also describe Golding’s change of pace but no less compelling leading turn here.
(As far from 'Crazy Rich Asians' as you can imagine, 'Monsoon' sees Henry Golding in a wholly understated, yet nuanced and poignant turn, as a gay Vietnamese immigrant returning home to do some soul searching)
Review by Gabriel Chong