Henry Golding plays Kit, a 30-something returning to Saigon for the first time in many decades. He had lived there during his years as a child but was forced to flee due to the continued conflicts of the Vietnam War. Searching for some meaning and purpose in his life, he decides to return to his birthplace to scatter his parents’ ashes with his brother and hopes that the trip re-ignites his passion for his homeland. Feeling “like a tourist”, though, Kit, already struggling with his grief, finds it difficult to embrace the land: the noise, the surroundings, the people, everything feels foreign to him but he is determined to find solace and a new sense of life by sticking it out.
Along the way, he meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an American with whom he becomes romantically involved with but it’s his tense relationship with old friend Lee (David Tran) that really helps Kit open his eyes to the world around him, both then and now. Telling his stories about his past, about his parents, and why they left the country, there is a quiet resentment between the two but friendship does blossom again, despite many home truths casting shadows on them both.
After striking real gold with his 2014 film Lilting, director Hong Khaou returns with another masterclass in melancholy, reflection, and wonderfully engaging drama. A film that shows us the power of reconnecting with our past and embracing life, however strange, is always worthwhile. Khaou’s thoughtful, precise direction – the opposite of the bustling streets of Saigon that open the film, a seemingly never-ending stream of people and opportunity that is wonderfully brought to the screen with wide shots and overhead pans – won’t be up everyone’s street as its unique pace and structure could be considered laboured but like Kit’s character discovering things a-new for the first time, it allows us to as well.
His ace in the hole, however, is Henry Golding who delivers the best performance of his fledgling career to date and one that truly marks him as a true leading man. He has been building up plenty of steam in his first forays into cinema with Crazy Rich Asians, A Simple Favour, and The Gentlemen but this is the first time he is truly front and centre and he revels in opportunity. Restrained yet welcoming, warm yet aloof, sensitive yet strong, Golding’s portrayal of the disillusioned Kit is wonderful and anchors the film’s narrative and themes perfectly. Add to that a brilliant, touching supporting turn from Parker Sawyers whose relationship with Kit is joyous, both of whom only elevate the film further.
Monsoon is a rich, moving, and heartfelt film about family, grief, love, and the tough decisions we all make during our lifetimes while being a quiet reflection on life itself. And tea, the magic elixir to make any dark moments feel a little brighter.