The Beautiful Country (2004)



Director:  Hans Petter Noland. 

Starring:  Damien Nguyen (Binh), Ling Bai (Ling), Thi Hoa Mai (Wa), Nick Nolte (Steve), Tim Roth (Captain Oh), Chapman To (Chingmy), Temuera Morrison (Snakehead), Xuan Phuc Dins (Pham), Thu An Nguyen (Old Woman), Ka Duy Pham (Cousin 15 years old), Minh Trang Ngo (Cousin 14 years old), Dang Quoc Thinh Tran (Tam), Thi Kim Xuan Chau (Mai), Tang Vu (Head Servant), Thu Anh (Mrs. Hoa).

a Vietnamese young man born of an American soldier father has a rough time with prejudice in Vietnam and tries to find his dad in the United States


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Bui Doi in English means "less than dust".  The term is used to describe Vietnamese children with American fathers.

Vietnam 1990.  Binh gets some food through the window.  He is very tall and towers over most of the other Vietnamese.  He asks his sister if she is going to marry the next-door neighbor.  He also asks what his mother had said about his dad.  Another question he has is if his mother is alive.  His sister won't answer but grandmother tells him the answer is yes. 

Binh travels to Siagon (now Ho Chi Minh City) to track his mother down.  He first goes to the old barber shop where she cut hair at one time.  A woman there tells him that his mother is working in the big house.  He walks over to the huge house of a very wealthy woman.  When he sees his mother he asks her if she knows who he is.  His mother gives him an enthusiastic embrace.  Binh goes home with his mother where his little brother Tam also lives. 

His mother gets Binh a job working in the big house.  The Madame there is not very pleasant.  She tells Binh that her mother has suffered a lot because of him.  The madame's son also likes touching Binh's mother in a sexual way.  Later Madame accuses Binh of stealing from her.  Her son hits Binh twice.  On another occasion  Binh holds a small statue for his mother, Madame arrives, concludes that Binh is trying to steal the statue, tries to grab it, slips and falls backward hitting her head on the hard floor and expires.  The now very fearful mother runs with Binh back to their little apartment.  She packs for him and Tam, gives him some money she has saved and says good-bye to her sons. 

Binh and Tam get themselves on a boat.  One of the passengers taunts Binh saying that "He's not Vietnamese.  He's a big American."    The refugees come ashore in Malaysia.  The police pick them up and they are taken to the Pulau Polong Refugee Camp.  There they are given a shelf on a bunk bed structure of three levels.  Binh and Tan meet a young woman named Ling who they both take a liking to.  Ling is located almost directly across from them.  She wants to get out of the camp and her way of doing this is through prostitution which upsets Binh a great deal.  Binh also desperately wants to get out of the camp.

During a riot in the camp, Ling takes advantage of the situation and leads Binh and Tam out to a boat.  Ling gives Binh $2,000 dollars and tells him to use it to get on the ship anchored not far away.  But Binh keeps insisting that Ling go with them.  Eventually he grabs Ling and puts her in the small boat. 

When they get on the large ship they learn that the passage for the three of them will be $8,000 dollars:  $2,000 for each of the adults and $4,000 for the child.  The child is more expensive because they cannot make a lot of money from a child who cannot work for them.  A lot of the passengers die along the way, including little Tam.  Binh and Ling are very upset over this personal loss.  The captain befriends Binh and asks him to work for him.  But Binh just wants to get to America. 

The refugees land ashore, probably somewhere along the Jersey coast.  They run to the shore, stepping over the bodies of drowned refugees.  They are then picked up by two large trucks.  Binh ends up working in a restaurant in Chinatown, Manhattan, New York.  Ling is working as a singer/prostitute in one of the night clubs.  Binh gets very jealous of the attention paid to Ling by the men in the night club.  One night he finally decides to make the necessary and needed break with Ling. 

Binh learns a very devastating fact of life.  In a poker game one of the players tells him that any Vietnamese with an American GI as a father can fly to the United States for free.  Binh is extremely upset, especially about the possibility that Tam might still be alive if they had flown to the United States. 

Binh decides to go to Texas to find his father.   He tells one of his employers:  "I American.  Be like you."   Binh hitchhikes his way to Houston, Texas.  There he visits the house at the address his mother had given him.  The problem is that he finds his ex-wife, but no Steve Cole.  Binh hangs around the place until the ex-wife gives up and tells him that he should go to the farm country in Sweetwater, Texas to find her ex.  She is shocked when Binh tells her that Steve Cole is his father. 

Binh shows up in Sweetwater.  He takes a ranch job as a handyman with a man named Gene.  Gene tells Binh that he is going to fire the old handyman who is not very good, because there is only one trailer between the two of them.  But Binh insists that the other handyman and he can manage living in the same trailer.  Gene says o.k and that Steve will get him started. This is the first inkling that the other handyman is Binh's father.  It turns out that Steve Cole is blind.  While in Vietnam, an explosion caused his loss of sight.  He was unconscious for six months and woke up in a hospital in the United States.  So this is why Steve Cole just suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from Vietnam.  Binh starts warming up to his father.  The two build a great friendship.  Binh gives his father a hair cut just as his mother once cut her future husband's hair at the old hair-cut place in Vietnam. 

Good movie.  I was a little disappointed that the movie never showed Binh telling his father that he was his son.  But I guess we can just assume that he did.  Great performances by  Damien Nguyen (Binh) and Ling Bai (Ling).  And Ling Bai is very attractive, especially in the night club scenes.  Oh, one thing my wife and I both noticed was that Damien Nguyen does not look like he is a mixture of Asian and white.  But that was just a little distraction.  I enjoyed the hitch-hiking scenes where various Americans gave Bihn rides on his way to Houston.  Thatís what I like to see: kindness, not racism.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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