By Jack Hawkins.
This is a quiet, solemn little film about change, nostalgia and odyssey. Our focaliser is Kit (Henry Golding), a British-Vietnamese man who returns to his birth country some 30 years after fleeing it. He and his family escaped Saigon in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, settling for England because of his mother’s fondness for the Queen.
We know little of what happened since, only that his parents have passed. Their ashes accompany Kit as he touches down in Vietnam, where he hopes to find a place of meaning to scatter them.
The opening establishes Monsoon as a film of mood and ambience, framing Kit’s voyage with wide, static camerawork that captures the scale and exciting isolation of travel. ‘Exciting isolation’ may sound oxymoronic, but it describes the feeling of solitude a solo traveller can have when they’re immersed in an environment very different to their own, which is especially true of Southeast Asia’s buzzing, balmy cities. Moonsoon understands this, immersing you with beeping horns, rumbling engines and foreign voices as Kit navigates the streets and alleys of Saigon.
Kit cuts a rather aloof figure, coolly detached from the people and places around him. That is until he meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), a thirty-something African American man living in Saigon as a fashion entrepreneur. A bigger personality, Lewis brings out a smile in Kit, revealing him to be insouciant rather than hostile. Their connection appears to be just a tryst, yet a chance second encounter becomes more meaningful as they share their respective connections to Vietnam.
Lewis is drawn to Saigon ostensibly because of the city’s growth and opportunity, but his relocation is spiritually underpinned by the country’s dark past. Lewis explains how his father served in the war, suffering scars both physical and psychological by the time he was discharged. Years later, he would commit suicide. Lewis’s presence in Vietnam, therefore, is an odyssey almost as personal as Kit’s.
This shared, quiet mourning is part of the young men’s understated chemistry, one that’s both physical and intimate, sometimes bittersweetly. They find some comfort in the city – Lewis feels accepted by the locals, Kit finds traces of his childhood – but their experiences are still wistful.
The memories of their relatives will stay in a troubled past, supplanted by the skyscrapers and free market optimism of modern Vietnam. Indeed, Lewis and Kit’s experiences can be seen as a microcosm of the Vietnam story, representing the past, present and future of that beautiful, exciting country.
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