For the record! In my review of last year’s George Michael-themed holiday rom-com "Last Christmas" (perhaps the only not-scathing review of that movie; I’ll own it), I wrote that Henry Golding was a movie star in waiting who overshadowed the movie’s ostensible lead, Emilia Clarke, at every turn. So, I was disappointed to see him wasted entirely in Guy Ritchie’s "The Gentlemen," and I was excited to see him headline director-writer Hong Khaou’s "Monsoon."
The British film screened during this year’s virtual AGLIFF and now is available on demand starting Friday.
The gorgeously shot "Monsoon" centers on Kit (Golding), a man who returns to his native Vietnam to spread the ashes of his parents. They escaped their war-torn country when Kit was very young, so his sense of belonging is tenuous.
While in the country, he hooks up with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), who has his own haunted family connection to Vietnam. He also reconnects with a cousin (David Tran); their scenes are unquestionably the film’s best and most painful.
Even when he’s not playing a Christmas ghost in a movie based on George Michael songs (spoiler, I guess), Golding is magnetic. And promise, it’s not just because of the bone structure. We’re used to seeing him slick and shiny in movies like "Crazy Rich Asians," but in "Monsoon," he’s hesitant and jaded. The stories Kit’s told himself — and that he was told as a child — contradict the lives of others he meets, and Golding’s not afraid to sit in the mess.
Also, there are not enough nice things to say about the cinematography in "Monsoon," from Benjamin Kracun. Exhilarating overheads of swarming scooters and lush lotuses, which you can practically smell off the screen. Lithe, barely lit bodies twisting in humid rooms. It’s stunning.
Rhythmwise, Khaou’s film doesn’t ever turn up the gas; it’s a lazy river float, whispering questions of home and identity from start to finish. It could stand to stage whisper just a little louder at times. But, sure enough, Golding’s got the charisma to hold up the taciturn ramble of an indie drama just as well as a rom-com.
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