Starring Henry Golding, this moving film is story of cultural displacement, unexpected romance and the search for a lost home.
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. He wants to scatter his parents’ ashes in their home country, but also hopes to rediscover his own roots and understand his identity. However, instead of a homecoming, he finds himself in an unfamiliar country – so much has changed in this vibrant, busy country, and he can no longer speak the language.
He travels to Saigon and spends time with various people who are also trying to understand their place in the country. His cousin Lee reminds them of their shared youthful games but also the wounds and struggles of those who stayed behind, while art expert Linh is trying to break away from her traditional family of lotus tea merchants. A casual hook up with an American guy Lewis (Parker Sawyers, who played Barack Obama in the 2016 film Southside with You) turns into something potentially more important, as the two share their thoughts – Kit about his place in the new Vietnam and Lewis about the pain felt by the son of a Black G.I. who fought in the war.
Writer-director Hong Khaou, who made the delicate Lilting starring Ben Whishaw, knows the dislocation of the displaced, as his family fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia when he was a baby, moving to Vietnam until he was eight and then fleeing again to Britain. He wanted to explore his struggle for a sense of identity as well as the clashes between the generation who lived through war and those who were born afterwards and want to move on from their national trauma.
Initially Khaou wrote the character of Lewis as a white man, but he realised the story of the trauma to white G.I.s has been well explored in film, and he wanted to show something different with the additional difficulties faced by Black G.I.s. Another intentional move was that Kit is not wrestling with his sexuality – this is not something that is ever discussed nor does it seem to trouble him or Lewis. Their relationship is a part of the story but not in a defining way. Like films such as God’s Own Country, sexuality is not a topic, just a quite fact in the background, echoing so much heteronormativity on screen.
Overall, this dreamy, quiet, thoughtful film examines feelings of displacement felt by a man in his 30s, trying to work out where he belongs and to tether himself to his past or his future. His chances for new friendships and romance are balanced with the ghosts of those who are no longer there, the dislocation of long distance travel and Skype calls and the cultural confusion of someone who belongs in more than one place, and somehow in none.
This is a film which will haunt your brain and make you think, but it is beautifully made and shot and will nourish your thoughts and move you with its delicacy. Monsoon is out this week in the UK and will be available in cinemas and online.