Jay’s review published on Letterboxd:
Director: Hong Khaou
Writer: Hong Khaou
Cast: Henry Golding, Parker Sawyers, David Tran, Molly Harris, Lâm Vissay & Edouard Leo
"I feel like a tourist."
For decades, queerness has been the bedfellow of estrangement. No matter how much "progress" we make, there's always a lingering suspicion that we are lost or that we do not belong. Microaggression upon microaggression leaves queer people with an indelible suspicion of those around them, even those who are supposed to love them, and the gains we have made feel fragile, as though they could be stolen from us without much resistance from our allies at any given moment.
This sense of estrangement, and its symbiotic relationship with queerness, is a significant aspect of what drives Hong Khaou's MONSOON, a quiet, ruminative film about Kit (Golding), a man who returns to his birth country of Vietnam for the first time in over 30 years to scatter his mother's ashes. Catapulted into a culture that is nominally his but nonetheless feels alien to him, he is at once distant from his heritage yet unavoidably defined by his nation's history. While there, he strikes up a relationship with Lewis (Sawyers), an American whose father was a Vietnam War veteran, as he tries to find meaning in a place he can barely remember but which has had such a salient impact on his life and the lives of those he loves.
Khaou's film is thoughtful and considered, though a lack of major emotional beats means that, much like Kit, it also feels a little muted and uncertain. There is some complex interplay between different characters and cultures, and Khaou uses broad brush strokes to touch on ideas of war, class, cultural perspective and sexuality. Alas, due to the film's short runtime and general lack of focus, none of these myriad and interlinked threads are given the attention they deserve. Similarly, though the relationship between Kit and Lewis is authentic and there is real chemistry between Golding and Sawyers, the film is over before we really get much of a chance to know them, thus denying the audience both meaningful catharsis and growth.
This is a film that is impressive but a little too disjointed. Khaou floats through the narrative like a passive observer, enamoured with the aesthetic of numerous different facets of Vietnamese life and offering a brief snapshot into the stories of these characters that is richly rewarding but all too short and non-committal. The sincere performances, particularly those of Golding and Sawyers, are quietly effective and Khaou's writing avoids trite melodrama, but the film is almost too quiet. Whole scenes pass by with barely any dialogue at all and there is a sense that we haven't really learned much about anyone or anything.
I enjoyed MONSOON and think it's an often beautiful little film. Alas, given the themes with which it flirts, it also feels like a wasted opportunity to explore the lives and ideals of its characters, none of whom I got the impression that I knew well by the time the credits rolled.