The Beautiful Country (R)
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So... I've had this habit of looking for DVDs... often used DVDs, which are, of course, cheaper than new ones... There were a couple of movies starring Bai Ling that I'd see at stores that both rented and sold DVDs, "Paris" and "The Beautiful Country." Eventually I got both, both of course it generally takes a long time before I get around to watching DVDs after I buy them. Eventually I tried watching Paris, but quit before getting too far into it, because it sucked. Some time later, I watched The Beautiful Country, which... well, for the most part it's a very grim movie, but it's good. And ultimately, it's rather beautiful. The title, by the way, can refer both to Vietnam and America.
It begins in a small village in Vietnam, in 1990. There's a young man named Binh, who had been fathered by an American G.I. during the Vietnam War. He apparently never knew either of his parents, and the people who have raised him (I'm not clear on their exact relation to him) don't seem to see him as truly Vietnamese. So he heads to Saigon to look for his mother, whom he soon finds. She gets him a job where she works, but... something tragic happens, which I won't specify. But, you know... it's the kind of thing that makes me hate the world. Anyway, I should mention that Binh's mother, Mai, had another son, a young boy named Tam. After this incident, Mai gave Binh all the money she had saved up, and made him take Tam with him on a boat which was supposed to take them to America, apparently. But actually it only went to Malaysia, so Binh and Tam end up in a refugee camp. Among the people they meet there is a Chinese woman named Ling (played by Bai Ling). Binh and Ling soon develop a friendship, and it seems as if there's the potential for a romantic relationship, though Ling works as a prostitute, to earn money in the hopes of escaping the camp. So... both of them have reasons to see themselves (and be seen by others) as... unworthy, in general.
Eventually, Binh, Ling, and Tam manage to get onto a ship which is heading to America, with a bunch of other refugees, though they don't have enough money to pay for passage for all three of them. Which is probably irrelevant, since I got the impression that whether people paid or not, they were going to be sold into indentured servitude. Anyway, there are plenty of problems to face on the boat, and a lot of people end up dying. But eventually they get to New York... which is perhaps a bit better, but still... not exactly the life they were promised. Well, Binh always wanted to find his father, Steve, who lived in Texas. And about an hour and a half into this unrelentingly grim movie... good things actually start to happen. And finally, finally he finds Steve... but of course, there are more complications. I won't spoil anything specific about that, but... in spite of being one of the most upbeat parts of the movie, it is decidedly bittersweet.
Anyway, this is a movie I'll probably never want to watch again, but I'm glad to have seen it once. All the actors were good, and the story was good. And Binh was an amazingly... unbitter character. In his place, I would've probably started killing people fairly early, but he seemed to take all the shit life threw at him pretty much in stride. Which is kind of sad, actually. But also admirable. And... at least he ends up in a better situation than he was in for most of the movie. There are unanswered questions, perhaps... but the movie ends on a relatively positive note.