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KARLOVY VARY 2019 Competition

Hong Khaou • Director of Monsoon

“The characters have to live with the unintended consequences of what their parents did”


- We sat down with Cambodian-born British director Hong Khaou to unpick his second movie, Monsoon, in competition at Karlovy Vary

Hong Khaou  • Director of Monsoon

British director Hong Khaou’s second film, Monsoon [+see also:
film review
interview: Hong Khaou
film profile
, has just played in competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. His award-winning debut movie, Lilting [+see also:
film review
film profile
, also unspooled at the Czech festival. Monsoon is a hugely personal picture about a man returning to Vietnam after 30 years. Cambodian-Chinese by birth, Khaou and his family fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia when he was just a baby. He then lived in Vietnam until he was eight, when the family fled to England as “boat people” after reunification.

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Cineuropa: Monsoon is a sensitive film, and this is reflected in the poignant pacing. Was this the reason why you opted for such deliberate pacing?
Hong Khaou: Yes; I needed to find a form for the film to help magnify the feelings at this moment when Kit returns to Vietnam. A big chunk of it was to get that sense of loneliness and that feeling of being discombobulated when he arrives in the country. So one of the things that I really wanted, and which I discussed with my DoP a lot, was for it to feel like it was a personal story but for the audience to always be a couple of steps behind. We had to find camera work and a certain style that fed into that.

Why was it important for you to tell this story of someone returning to a place where they have roots, but whose own experience of the place is limited?
Wow, that just set off 100 neurons in my head. I think one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this is that I carry this feeling of having my roots somewhere else. Some days it is stronger than others. I wanted to explore that.

It’s unusual to see Vietnam depicted so quietly.
That was the other thing, because I came to Britain in 1993, and some of the American Vietnam War films have formed the dominant perspective on Vietnam in the USA. So I guess I wanted to do something about that but in a way that was slightly different. I didn’t want to get stuck in this polemic world of who is good and who is bad. I found it very interesting that you have these characters who are born after the war, but who are nevertheless a product of the war because of what their parents went through. They then have to live with the unintended consequences of what their parents did.

Is this an autobiographical film?
It’s not autobiographical, but it came from a very personal place. It is an amalgamation of my own story and various other stories that I had read in different archives, which I then used to construct the world of the film.

The title Monsoon is almost deceptive because there is no rain.
It’s such a hard thing to come up with a title for a film. I didn’t want the title to be literal. It’s not too oblique, and I just wanted it to be a poetic interpretation of what was happening.

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