Monsoon is available to rent, buy or stream.
In his second film, director Hong Khaou would tread a different path from his debut feature Lilting (2014) while continuing to explore themes of identity, grief and reconciliation. At the time of its release, Monsoon was labelled a gay romantic drama; however, Khaou’s film is much more complex than the gay romance at its heart. Here we have an international road trip of discovery, rebirth and renewal for a British Vietnamese man longing to rediscover the missing parts of his identity and heritage.
Kit (Henry Golding) has arrived in Vietnam for the first time since being pulled away, aged eight, his parents having fled the country following the war. His family rarely mentioned Vietnam during his formative years, concentrating their efforts on building a new life in the UK. However, following his mother’s death and her wish for her ashes to be taken to her home city, Kit has arrived in Saigon, the city of his birth. His mission is to discover a suitable place to scatter his mother’s ashes; however, for Kit, this is also an opportunity to rediscover the boy inside the man and the Vietnamese culture and traditions long since forgotten.
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Kit’s journey begins as he reunites with his distant cousin Lee (David Tran), who he would play with as a child. However, Lee and Kit’s lives have taken starkly different trajectories since he left. Here Kit desperately searches for memories and connection, but it’s clear he is now a tourist in the land of his birth. As Kit roams the city, he meets a local businessman and fashion designer Lewis (Parker Sawyers), the sparks of attraction providing comfort in a city that feels a world away yet strangely familiar.
While never labelled as a road trip movie, Monsoon contains all the classic elements that make the road trip genre work. For kit, the concept of home has always sat between two worlds, both pulling in different directions, his adopted country and the place of his birth – one a home that never quite felt certain and the other calling for his return through a set of hazy memories. Here we see Kit explore those nagging memories against the backdrop of a country that has changed beyond recognition, the extended family he left behind mere strangers.
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Throughout his travels, Kit’s sexual orientation is a stabilising force as he internally debates his cultural heritage and identity. Here, his holiday romance with Lewis offers security and stability in a world that suddenly seems off-kilter and uncertain. Kit doesn’t know the whole story behind his parent’s decision to flee, just as Lewis, the son of an American soldier, doesn’t know the entire story of his father’s service in Vietnam. The past ultimately haunts both men, their union one of healing that may or may not find permanence.
Khaou’s Monsoon is wrapped in the melancholy of the lone traveller trying to find a connection that doesn’t exist. Here there is raw honesty and realism in the journey Kit takes – a journey that ultimately explores the fact that who we were and who we are is made up of a complex web of life experiences. As Monsoon comes to a close, there is no final answer to Kit’s quest, and this only ensures Khaou’s film is all the more truthful about the many journeys we take in life.