Monsoon opens with a remarkable overhead shot depicting the beautiful insanity of traffic in Saigon. As an intense and relentless symphony of hundreds of scooters and cars converge, just barely missing each other, the scene becomes a study in controlled chaos. It is both mesmerizing and tremendously stressful to watch. Pity it doesn’t occupy the remaining 83 minutes of Hong Khaou’s latest drama.
Khaou, of course, is the acclaimed director of the widely-admired 2014 LGBTQ film, Lilting. Which makes Monsoon (★★☆☆☆) all the more frustrating. He’s a gifted director, but apparently has decided to abandon his gifts for drama and storytelling and instead bask in obtuse, pointless self-indulgence. After the stunning opening shot, Khaou’s film, with only a minimal amount of narrative and absolutely no dramatic heft whatsoever, literally deep-dives into a pit of nothingness, never bothering to pull itself out.
Kit (Henry Golding) has returned to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years since his family escaped during the war when he was six. He’s there to return the ashes of his deceased parents to their original home in Hanoi. He’s a stranger in the land of his birth and we are meant to see the world through his virgin eyes. Along the way, he reconnects with an old friend (David Tran), befriends a tour guide (Molly Harris), and has a few late-night hookups. One of these — Lewis (Parker Sawyer), an American living in Vietnam to launch his clothing brand — provokes slightly more than a casual, dispassionate response from Kit.
Khaou’s overall point is tough to attain. His screenplay is underdeveloped, and his idea of directing here is to plop the camera down and present us with super-long, lingering shots that overstay their onscreen welcome, like guests that won’t leave.
The characters are metaphors: Lewis represents the collective American guilt for fighting in a war they should have never been part of. “It’s not a war we can recall with pride,” says Lewis, to which Kit responds, “Why would you want to recall it with pride?” Kit, meanwhile, represents the notion of cultural disconnect and dilution.
Perhaps as a kind of Vietnamese travelogue, the film has merit, but really, isn’t that what the Travel Channel is for? One sequence in particular, in which we watch the art of making authentic Lotus tea, bursts to colorful, fascinating life, but it’s a brief respite from the movie’s drab, aching dullness. So little actually happens over the course of Monsoon that it becomes an ordeal to watch.
More than once a character says to Kit, “You look bored” or “Are you bored yet?” It’s as if the filmmaker is taunting us to stay awake. Golding, as handsome as ever, gives a performance that is fundamentally lifeless. He might as well be playing a corpse. Sawyer lights things up a bit, though his character is written in a scattershot, uncertain manner.
Monsoon is one of two films showing at a planned drive-in screening at Union Market, so it’s not on the streaming platform. So here’s what I suggest: Go and get out of the house in a safe environment, and support Reel Affirmations. Enjoy the first two breathtaking minutes, and then spend the rest of the time in the backseat of your car making out with your date. It’ll be time far better spent.
Monsoon will be showcased in a special Reel Affirmations Drive-In Screening at Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE, on Thursday, Oct. 22, at 8:45 p.m. Tickets are $20. Click here for details.
Monsoon screens as part of this year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets or festival screening passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!