It wasn’t so long ago that most “gay” movies were stories of secrets, shame, or trauma.
Once in a while there would be a happy ending (remember The Wedding Banquet or Beautiful Thing?), but mostly not (remember Brokeback Mountain?).
Luckily, the world continues to evolve, and today’s global cinema offers a much wider range of gay-centric stories. They’re more nuanced, more diverse, and definitely more interesting.
Take Chinese-Cambodian-British writer/director Hong Khaou’s Monsoon, which hit the festival circuit last year and is now available on various streaming platforms and on DVD. Though Kit, the main character (played Crazy Rich Asians dreamboat Henry Golding), is gay, this delicate story deals with that fact only tangentially, focusing much more on his sense of ethnic and cultural dislocation.
Set in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Monsoon takes Kit, who emigrated to England with his parents when he was just six, back to the country of his birth for the first time. Though his ostensible mission is to return the ashes of his parents to their ancestral land, he’s also on a personal journey to work on his feelings of being caught between two worlds, neither of which he has ever fully understood.
The buzz of Ho Chi Minh City overwhelms him.
He recognises nothing from his childhood and has trouble locating his old neighborhood. He says little and instead races around on motorbikes and sits on park benches, staring off into the distance.
Because Vietnam has Grindr, Kit soon finds himself on a very successful date with Lewis, a tall and charismatic African-American who manufactures a clothing range. It’s through the stories they share that the two men come to a better understanding of themselves as perpetual outsiders.
As for the sex, the most dramatic thing about it is the lack of any negative drama. As Khaou told The Irish Times, “I wanted Kit to absolutely confident in his sexuality. I didn’t want any baggage about it.” He succeeds.
For Kit, finding a romantic relationship is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle he wants to solve.
Monsoon tells a story that mirrors Khaou’s own experience as a Cambodian immigrant to England, and it’s the second time he’s brought his unique perspective to the screen.
His first feature, 2014’s Lilting, brings together a young British man (played by the highly regarded Ben Whislaw) and the Chinese mother of his recently deceased boyfriend. Though neither speaks the other’s language, they must find a way to communicate to navigate their shared grief, a challenge made all the tougher by the fact that the mother didn’t have a full picture of her son’s life.
Here, too, Khaou displays a very sensitive directorial touch that’s just right for his character-driven script.
Keep an eye on Khaou. It will be fascinating to see what he does next.