An intimate travelogue, “Monsoon” follows Kit (Henry Golding), a software animator raised in London, as he returns to Vietnam, where he was born and lived until he was 6 years old. Kit’s eventual goal is to scatter his parents’ ashes. His Vietnamese is no longer good, and he has faint memories of his childhood. Lee (David Tran), his cousin, paints a fuller picture of their time as boys.
“Monsoon” was written and directed by Hong Khaou, who came to Vietnam as a baby, when his parents fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; they left Vietnam for Britain when he was 8. In writing the film, he drew on impressions from his own long-deferred return.
Kit forges a romantic connection with an American, Lewis (Parker Sawyers), who is in Vietnam overseeing production for his clothing company — and happens to be the son of a Vietnam veteran, a contrivance that influences their discussion of the war. In non-romantic matters, he meets Linh (Molly Harris), who leads art tours and shows Kit how to prep flowers for traditional lotus tea, a drink Kit’s parents loved that he has never tried.
This is a thoroughly personal film, in ways that don’t always translate. Driven more by mood than plot, the movie spends a great deal of time absorbing the sights and sounds of the former Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and, later, Hanoi. But the ambience doesn’t register with full force, or do the heavy lifting entrusted to it. “Monsoon” finally tips over the line that separates minimalism from a not-fully-developed movie.