What is beautiful? An impressive skyline? The embrace of a long-lost family member? A pretty woman singing a love song? A country with lush, rolling landscapes? Or one where hope is offered to all? One of the strengths of The Beautiful Country is its ability to ask about and challenge our notion of beauty—and ugliness. This nuanced, yet ambitious-in-scope movie shows us both in the most unlikely places.
For main character Binh (Damien Nguyen), life has been anything but beautiful. As a young Vietnamese man whose mother is a native and whose father was an American G.I., his culture labels him bui doi, "less than dust." He's raised by his extended family with little love and much ridicule in a quiet rural village. He has little knowledge of his parents' whereabouts, or even if they're alive. When a marriage in the family brings a new man to the house, Binh is ousted and his grandmother suggests he go to Saigon to search for his mother, whom she finally reveals is still alive.
Thus begins a long journey of discovery for Binh, a downtrodden outsider who literally doesn't fit in his culture due to the height he must have inherited from his American father. His first discovery is a half-brother, Tam (Tran Dang Quoc Thinh), a plucky young boy whose youthful exuberance amidst poverty is a needed breath of fresh air in this sobering tale. Binh finally meets his mom, a humble housekeeper of a rich Vietnamese family, in a dingy alleyway. His simple proclamation, "It's me," is followed by a wordless scene that's utterly moving in its understated flood of emotion.
A freak accident makes this reunion short-lived, and Binh is forced to take Tam and flee to America to search for his father. This journey is fraught with much difficulty ...1
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The Beautiful Country
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