Movie Review: The Beautiful Country

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
"Bui doi" or "less than dust" is the insult given to children born in Vietnam who have Vietnamese mothers and American G.I. fathers. Set in 1990, "The Beautiful Country" follows a young "bui doi," Binh (Damien Nguyen) on his journey of self-discovery. His foster family treats him as a despicable interloper and slave. He leaves his foster home to search for his birth mother. He meets his mother and half-brother, and tragedy leads to his escaping Vietnam with his young brother, enduring a refugee camp, a brutal ocean voyage and victimization by a human-trafficking ring. He travels to Malaysia, New York and finally to an isolated ranch in Texas where he meets his father.

"The Beautiful Country" seemingly has the right ingredients for a stunning tour de force. It has an interesting premise about topics that are real and should be explored: the plight of Amerasian children in Vietnam, the emotional consequences of the Vietnam War, the stigmatization of unwed mothers in some cultures, and human trafficking and enslavement. But, as much as I wanted to love this film, the story lacked nuance and the dialog wasn’t sufficiently real to engender my interest in the characters and their challenges.

Damien Nguyen gives an understated and somewhat believable performance as the main character, Binh. But his performance is so understated at times that he seems to disappear; at other times the contrived dialog made it impossible to be believable. The two most outstanding performers were Thi Kim Xuan as Binh’s mother, Mai, and Bai Ling as Binh’s older and wiser friend, Ling. Nick Nolte as Binh’s father was moving as a reclusive Vietnam Vet.

This screenplay is written by Australian, Sabina Murray, who says she drew on her own background as an Amerasian (with a Phillippina mother) to write this story. It is directed by Norwegian, Hans Peter Moland, with successful films under his belt like "Aberdeen" (2000) and "The Last Lieutenant" (1993); "The Beautiful Country" lacked the authenticity that makes a film compelling. The important topics were present, but with a superficial and clichéd treatment. I hear that there are some promising Vietnamese and Vietnamese/American filmmakers emerging, and I look forward to seeing some of their work about these issues.

For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield. ©
Air date: 7/13/05
More Information:
The Beautiful Country
Hans Petter Moland, 2004; English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese