Henry Golding Is a Gay Man Seeking Closure in New Film ‘Monsoon’
Henry Golding, the Malaysian-English actor who shot to fame in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, has chosen his follow-up roles to counter the pigeonholing that happens to insanely beautiful humans (he was also a model and television host, and there’s a lot of prejudice to wade through with that baggage). In the two major romantic comedies he’s been in — both CRA and Last Christmas — he’s been a charming blank.
In Hong Khaou’s third feature film Monsoon, Golding is Kit, a Vietnamese-born UK citizen who returns to the country where he was born 30 years after being smuggled out of Saigon with his family. He and his brother, Henry (Lâm Vissay), were forbidden by their parents from returning, but a year after his mother’s death, Kit returns to Vietnam with her ashes and embarks on a journey of muted discovery to re-engage with a culture he only knows secondhand. While there he visits his cousin Lee (David Tran) who was left behind and strikes up a tentative relationship with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an app hookup that slowly morphs into something more.
That’s the plot. Like Khaou’s previous work — especially 2014’s Lilting, another gay-themed story that takes place in the aftermath of death — he’s interested in the displacement between silence, the inability to communicate, the search for closure.
“I think Hong has a very special way of creating and drawing out truth in silence,” Golding has said. “It’s something that we spoke about. We, as humans, we tend not to portray our angst, our discomfort, our quizzical nature. It really sits within us. Hong’s goal was to portray that in these long silences, in these troubled moments of Kit looking confused and looking out of place in this alien environment that he thought he belonged to because he’s Vietnamese.”
Most of the film is comprised of long, static shots of Kit revisiting what he remembers from his interrupted childhood. It’s lighted naturalistically and Golding doesn’t have the razzle-dazzle cinematography that made him such a stunning physical object of lust in his romantic comedy roles. But he’s sturdy and sexy and obtainable — not a contemplated ideal, but a flesh-and-blood creation. (The scruff sits well on him.)
His performance is as muted as the look of the film, and also as lived in, yet without the flash that wins awards and leads to hyperbole. Its quietness is effective. And he slowly lights up whenever Lewis is around, a fashion designer whose father fought in the war and who still may have the sublimated attitudes of American imperialism ingrained in his manner. (Sawyers own father was a Vietnam War veteran.)
Kit’s sexuality is secondary here, though it does dovetail into his confusion surrounding his identity. Golding struggled before accepting the role and had to be convinced by the director that he was the right person. “As a young man, straddling these two cultures of being half-Malaysian and half-English, I was always confused about who I was and what culture I represented,” the actor has said. “I was never Asian enough. I was never English enough. That’s something Kit has to get to the bottom of. The film’s director Hong Khaou puts it really nicely: Are you a product of your naturalization or cultural background? Because I’ve got a British passport, does that make me British? Or because I was born in Malaysia, does that mean that I’m Malaysian?”
His hesitancy was also fueled by being a straight actor taking a gay role.
“I used to be a hairdresser, so my environment as a young man was with all of these mentors of strong, gay, independent men,” he has said. “So I understand, and I respect the culture so much. But there’s only so much you can say to somebody and justify a straight man taking a gay role.”
He needn’t have worried. He acquits himself with an unobtrusive dignity, even though the film may be too slow or seemingly aimless for a lot of viewers. Yet one thing the film Monsoon makes readily apparent: Henry Golding has more to offer than what initially meets the eye.