Monday, November 9, 2020

Movie with Abe: Monsoon

Directed by Hong Khaou
Released November 13, 2020

People identify themselves in a number of ways. Nationality, religion, political affiliation, and gender are all categories in which people often place themselves and which tend to influence the activities in which they participate or the causes for which they advocate. A connection to culture may be complex and involve a strained relationship with a place of familial origin, like a country where citizens were forced to leave to continue to freely practice their religion or even their existence. Fleeing military conflicts that endanger daily life can also affect the way people relate to a strong part of their identity.

Kit (Henry Golding) returns to Vietnam for the first time since his departure as a young child. He goes first to see his old friend Lee (David Tran), who Kit remembers only from foggy recollections that are far more vivid and significant to Lee. As he explores Saigon, taking official tours and visiting the places he has been told were part of his childhood, Kit connects with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an American man whose father fought in the Vietnam War, and begins a relationship that finds them both confronting their complicated connection with a country that has had a tremendous impact on both their lives.

This film comes from Cambodian director Hong Khaou, whose previous film was “Lilting,” a moving exploration of the loss felt by a gay man and his late partner’s mother. This film navigates a different kind of loss as Kit researches the parts of his past which were obviously defining for him but which he feels so distant from because of his British upbringing. The kindhearted Lee represents a culture and sensibility that feels foreign to Kit, and Lee indicates a true sense of abandonment he felt that is only renewed when Kit returns with little memory of their time together. Lewis, in contrast, is someone who spends time in Vietnam purely for business reasons, and his attitude about his father’s service creates some friction as he and Kit unpack their perspectives.

The opening scene of this film displays the incredible chaos that guides the traffic on the Saigon streets, a headache that doesn’t seem to bother the mild-mannered Kit, who may bring with him an overconfidence but not so boldly, still presenting many gifts to Lee and his family in an attempt to show respect and honor. Golding, a Malaysia native who moved to England at a young age, is best known for roles in films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Last Christmas,” and it’s great to see him in this low-key, natural performance opposite the equally strong Sawyers and Tran, who demonstrate opposite energies indicative of their upbringings. This is a film that presents its characters in a simple and direct way, inviting audiences along on their intriguing journey of self-exploration.


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