Hong Khaou has created a beautifully slow depiction of life in modern Vietnam, and overlaid it with a gay man’s pilgrimage to find out about his family heritage.
A recurrent and striking image is that of the thousands and thousands of manic motorbike and scooter riders that swarm through the busy streets like mad, uncontrolled insects.
Henry Golding, billed by the publicity as a “ heartthrob “ is a half-British returnee, having fled the regime some 30 years earlier as boy of six. Kit, his character , returns to the Saigon of his boyhood, determined to scatter his mother’s ashes somewhere appropriate. His brother is due to bring their father’s ashes too and the film is Kit’s quest to find a suitable resting place.
But Monsoon, now on cinema and streaming release, is much more than a bleak travelogue, interesting and beautiful though the thoughtful cinematography is.
Golding is moody, slow to react to people and situations, enigmatic and hard to fathom. In his love attachment to the charismatic Parker Sawyers he at last becomes alive and smiley.
The big idea in the film is how the Vietnamese are coming to terms with modern life, with their uneasy relationship with their fellow countrymen who fled, with their new American “ friends” and with the horrific aftermath of the Vietnam War.
It’s a mighty big canvas so not surprisingly it ultimately fails to touch all the bases it aims for . The intriguing sub-plot for me is the strained relationship between Kit and his friend from 30 years ago , played with great feeling by David Tran. At first I thought Tran’s moody phone seller was sullen that a possible gay relationship between the two youngsters never blossomed, but I was wrong – Tran’s character’s real beef is that Kit and his family ran away from the conflict and didn’t remain to face the aftermath of the war.
It’s difficult to forget that Golding was once one of the frontmen on BBC TV’s Travel Show. Sometimes this film feels a little like that programme , taking us through the slums and tourist areas of Saigon and Hanoi.
Kit’s quest for a burial site remains unresolved at the film’s end, as he seems preoccupied to settle into a relationship with Sawyer’s fashion company owner.
Maybe the ending is meant to lead to a sequel. There’s certainly plenty of unmined material to go at , especially in the development of the two lead characters.
But it’s a lovingly painted picture of a country we know little of – and another good move in expanding Golding’s portfolio.
Monsoon is at selected cinemas, and on BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, Peccadillo Player, Amazon and Apple TV.
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