Written and directed by Hong Khaou, Kit (Henry Golding) a British-Vietnamese man, returns to Saigon for the first time in over 30 years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War. Also starring: Parker Sawyers, David Tran and Molly Harris.
Monsoon is an intimate drama that surrounds a man not quite clear of his place in the world, still trying to process things that happened in his childhood and the more recent death of his parents, as well as his cultural identity. The opening instils those qualities extremely well, while Golding’s performance gives off notes of loneliness and being lost, the cinematography brings through the vibrancy and colour of Saigon, thrusting him into a deluge of energy. That bright, vivid cinematography is extremely consistent throughout, it does an excellent job of capturing the delights that Vietnam has to offer, and mostly steers clear of anything overly tourist-esque.
Golding’s peformance adds another side to him that fans may not be so familiar with, it’s much more reserved and personal, Kit is a complex man and he does well to capture that. There’s no outbursts of emotion, a lot of what the character goes through requires Golding to give subtle facial clues and body language to reveal them, he presents an interesting character who’s neither inherently likable nor dislikeable, tending to keep people at arm’s lengths. That trait of distance does knock back his generally charismatic demeanour, he’s fairly quiet and aloof. Sawyers’ Lewis is a great addition, he has a solid chemistry with Golding, he brings out the personality to Kit and it’s a shame his character wasn’t further explored but Sawyers does very well to expose a lot of his insecurities, fears and history in the time that he does have. The blossoming relationship between the two of them is perhaps the strongest element of the story, it provides a charm to the film that it’s missing in other moments. Tran and Harris get small roles but they both certainly have something to add to the story, helping Kit to explore his past and pumping up the film’s personality a little.
However, the film struggles to commit to what it wants to be, flirting with the subject of the war, romance and family but it isn’t adequately blended or with one strong enough front-runner to create a strong story. Each of these choices would have made for a strong basis, landing somewhere between Lion and Tigertail but its noncommittal atmosphere prevents a more emotional or substantial story working its way out. Much like Golding’s Kit, there’s a quality to the film that’s slightly disconnected, it isn’t quite embracing its surroundings or the dramatic elements of the story, holding itself back from reaching its full potential. Some of this comes from the direction which feels a little awkward, despite that brilliant cinematography, there’s a lot of shots which lack a certain grace or a more gentle quality that the story calls out for. It’s an issue that’s perpetuated by the editing, it doesn’t have a smooth flow, there’s almost an unfinished quality to it, it’s rough rather than reflecting the more tender, sensitive nature of its story.
Monsoon showcases a different side of Henry Golding but its hesitance to commit to its story holds it back. Golding and Sawyers have a very intimate chemistry, exposing their characters’ vulnerabilities that’s sweet to watch and it’s a shame the film was pulling itself in too many directions to really focus on their budding relationship. The references to the Vietnam war work to set up why Kit has now returned to his homeland but the film’s attempts to then weave it into the story feel forced and don’t have a lot to add. Khaou’s direction lacks finesse against Benjamin Kracun’s stunning cinematography, there’s just a quality to some of the shots that feel clumsy and are only made more problematic by awkward editing. It’s a film that’s worth watching but could have been something powerful and misses the mark.