Henry Golding gives his most laid-back, natural screen performance in “Monsoon,” a melancholy Vietnamese travelogue and romance.
The “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Gentleman” star plays Kit, a Vietnamese expat raised in Britain who has returned to the homeland he barely remembers to scatter some ashes.
While there, Kit reconnects with a childhood family friend Lee (David Tran) who tries to jar his memories of a country and city — Saigon — which has been almost wholly remade in the decades since it became Ho Chi Minh City.
Much of Hong Khaou’s film is just Kit walking the streets, reflecting, riding on the back of motorscooters, taking the train north to the city of his parents’ birth, Hanoi. He’s looking for a place to leave the ashes in the wooden urn he’s brought with him, “somewhere momentous,” and he doesn’t look as if he’s having much luck, or that he’s in a hurry. He takes it all in and tries to remember a past his parents pretty much erased.
This is not a “memory play,” not a reflective story with flashbacks. Simple, spare conversations give away tiny pieces of his story to Lee, and eventually to Lewis (Parker Sawyers). They’re two Westerners who set off each other’s gaydar, and begin an affair.
I can’t remember a Vietnamese travel program that’s shown as much of the city life there as “Monsoon.” The opening image, the mesmerizing flow of traffic at a busy roundabout as viewed from on high, sets the tone. We see what Henry sees. Sometimes its a striking bridge, a timeworn neighborhood, a gallery, restaurant or hotel bedroom.
Golding gets across a sense of a man both at home here and adrift, letting the last of the grief that the loss of Kit’s “formidable” mother wash away from him. An online anime artist, he’s a lot more social than the stereotype of that job implies. Lewis isn’t the only friend he makes, or lover that he takes.
If there’s a knock on “Monsoon” it’s that not a lot happens. The drama is light, the unpleasant memories summoned up are watered down by Kit and Lee, whose family failed to escape the way Kit’s was able to.
But Golding, losing the debonair dash he wore uneasily in “Crazy Rich Asians” and the menace he half pulled-off in “The Gentlemen,” pleasantly drifts through this like someone not willing to look the part of a tourist, confident in his charm and never out of his depth so long as he has it.
MPA Rating: unrated, sex, smoking
Cast: Henry Golding, David Tran, Parker Sawyers, Molly Harris
Credits: Scripted and directed by Hong Khaou. A Strand/BBC film on Netflix.
Running time: 1:25