■ (Release Info London schedule; September 20th, 2020, Electric Cinema, 191 Portobello Road, London W11 2ED, United Kingdom, 12:00)
■ Release Info UK schedule; September's 25th, 2020, Princes Road, Wells, Somerset, BA5 1TD, 01749 673195.)
Kit (Henry Golding) returns to 'Ho Chi Minh City' for the first time since he was six years old when his family fled the country in the aftermath of 'The Vietnam-American' war. Struggling to make sense of himself in a city he’s no longer familiar with, he embarks on a personal journey across the country that opens up the possibility for friendship, love and happiness.
Kit arrives in Vietnam ahead of his older brother brother Henry (Lâm Vissay) to search out a meaningful place to scatter their parents ashes. It's a country Kit last knew as a six-year-old boy when his family fled to England as boat refugees in the turbulent aftermath of 'The American-Vietnam' war. He barely recognises 'Ho Chi Minh City' now and grapples with a growing sense of cultural dislocation made all the worse by the fact that he has forgotten how to speak the language. Whilst exploring his old neighbourhood he visits his estranged second cousin, Lee (David Tran), who helps him piece together the hazy memories of his fractured childhood. Kit arranges an on-line date with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), a handsome and sensitive 'African American' clothes designer whose father fought in 'The American-Vietnam' war. Despite some initial tension over their parents opposing roles in the conflict, a romance sparks between them and Lewis introduces Kit to the more vibrant and contemporary parts of the city. Kit also meets Linh (Molly Harris), a young Vietnamese student who embodies the spirit of a new generation, carving out an identity in modern Vietnam despite feeling constrained by her family’s traditional values and their expectations of her. Continuing the search for a meaningful location to scatter the ashes, Kit takes the long train journey North to his parents native Hanoi. He visits the apartment where his parents lived and meets up with Linh who introduces him to her family and the age-old art of lotus tea scenting. Hanoi holds no memories for Kit, yet the legacy of the war permeates this city. On his return to 'Ho Chi Minh City' Kit reconnects with Lee who reminds him of the hardship his parents went through to leave Vietnam. He picks up his brother Henry at the airport before meeting up with Lewis again. That initial spark they shared has developed into something hopeful, two men putting the past behind them in a country full of new possibilities. It's a rich and poignant reflection on the struggle for identity in a place where the past weighs heavily on the present. By tackling the personal and political legacies that have shaped them, Kit, Lewis and Linh can start to write an exciting new chapter in their lives.
Cultural identity, the search for belonging and the legacies of the past are touchstone themes. Kit's family fled 'The Khmer Rouge' in Cambodia when he was a baby. He then lived in Vietnam until he was eight when the family fled to England as boat people after reunification. The film creates an intimate meditation on the personal and cultural implications of displacement. Kit memories are rooted in the period he spent as a child in 'Ho Chi Minh City '. It's the story about a person returning to a land that they had fled. Went back to the country of your childhood for the first time in thirty years, which proved to be an extremely moving experience. Kit wants to understand his place in a culture, to try to capture a past he feels his parents denied him. This country is meant to mean something for Kit but it doesn’t feel familiar, or he doesn’t recognise the smells, the sounds, the people, the language. What he comes to understand, though, is that his parents actually liberated him. There’s this romantic notion that you've to go back to your past to move forward but there’s no definitive answer to be had from the experience, just a slight shift or change in you. You learn not to hanker for the past, but to live with it. Lewis is an on-off inhabitant of 'Ho Chi Minh City' who has based the production of his t-shirt business in the country. He’s like a tiny typhoon, charismatic and rambunctious. Moving to Vietnam is one way of piecing together the relationship with his father who fought in the Vietnam war and subsequently killed himself after suffering extreme 'PTSD'. A cosmopolitan art student, Linh represents a rapidly developing and forward-looking Vietnam but is torn between making her own way and inheriting the responsibility for the family’s Lotus tea production business, a very traditional Vietnamese way to make a living.
Cousin Lee connects Kit to the country and helps him piece together the gaps in his memory from childhood; Lewis and Kit find themselves in moments of transition in their present lives; and Linh embodies the energy of a new Vietnam, moving out of the past with confidence. Each of the four main characters in the film is entangled in this negotiation between past, present and future. Vietnam is an incredibly dense environment and the film wants to counter that with a sense of quiet and a slowness that conveys the feeling of Kit struggling to engage with his surroundings. Ultimately this is a film about family bonds and what roots us. The unifying theme in the film is cultural identity. When you're a refugee and you’ve been displaced, there’s this cstant struggle where we don’t ever feel we belong. The question is what shape or structure you choose to place that theme in. 'Ho Chi Minh City' is developing rapidly, it’s basically under construction and there are seven million mopeds on the streets, so crossing the road needs a steely nerve and a substantial amount of blind faith. We're deeply uneasy about the rise of nationalist rhetoric around the world and increasingly dismayed by the reductive portrayal of refugees in the popular media. As "Monsoon" emerges in the current climate, the film deliberately left space for the audience to ponder those questions and come to their own conclusions. So much of what we built in the West is contingent on forgetting some of our past traumas.