The Beautiful Country

Versatile, highly skilled Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland's poignant drama examines the lingering effects of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, 1990: Villager Binh (newcomer Damien Nguyen) has been ostracized all his life for being "bui doi" — "less than dust" — a highly derogatory term reserved for the offspring of South Vietnamese...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Versatile, highly skilled Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland's poignant drama examines the lingering effects of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, 1990: Villager Binh (newcomer Damien Nguyen) has been ostracized all his life for being "bui doi" — "less than dust" — a highly derogatory term reserved for the offspring of South Vietnamese women and American servicemen. Raised by relatives but forced to eat and sleep outside their home, Binh has lived at arm's length from mainstream society, his paternity instantly discernable to his fellow Vietnamese by his height and vaguely Western features. He bears, they say, the face of the enemy. When Binh learns that his mother, Mai (Chau Thi Kim Xuan), is alive and living in Ho Chi Minh City, he packs his few belongings and travels to the capital. Mai, who's overjoyed to see her son, gets him a job as a houseboy in the lavish home of the wealthy Vietnamese family for whom she works; she also tells him that his father, whom she married, simply disappeared from Saigon one day. She tells Binh that he now has a little brother, Tam (Tran Dang Quoc Thinh). When their cruel employer is killed in an accident involving Binh, Mai urges her son to take Tam and flee on a fishing boat that promises to take them to America, along with countless other "boat people." Mai tells Binh that, according to her marriage certificate, his father is from Texas and there's a good chance that he eventually returned home after abandoning his family. Binh's harrowing journey lands him first in a Malaysian refugee camp, where he befriends a Chinese prostitute (Bai Ling), then in the clutches of a ship captain (Tim Roth) who smuggles human cargo across the Pacific and into the United States. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (THE PIANO), Moland's film doesn't dwell on the events of a quarter-century ago — in fact, in one of his most touching scenes, Moland shows how many U.S. veterans have themselves made peace with "the enemy" — but rather how refugees still feel the aftershocks decades later. Unbeknownst to Binh, the 1982 Amerasian Immigration Act grants top priority to the children of American soldiers stationed in Southeast Asia, but his plight mirrors those of countless others who find themselves at the mercy of human traffickers — a problem that's as pervasive as it is contemporary.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Versatile, highly skilled Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland's poignant drama examines the lingering effects of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, 1990: Villager Binh (newcomer Damien Nguyen) has been ostracized all his life for being "bui do… (more)

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