Film review: Intentions good, but film is flawed

Published: Friday, Aug. 26 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY — ** — Damien Nguyen, Bai Ling, Nick Nolte; with English subtitles for some Asian dialects; rated R (violence, profanity, vulgarity, brief sex).

"The Beautiful Country" is the latest addition to an increasingly long list of movies with intentions that are better than their level of filmmaking and storytelling.

Filmmaker Hans Petter Moland's drama attempts to show the plight of the so-called "bui doi," the sons and daughters of American GIs who served in Vietnam. Unfortunately, it feels more like a series of dramatic skits that are loosely connected by shared characters than a coherent, cohesive film narrative.

Only one of various skits is really that watchable. It doesn't help that the main character is a dull, dour guy. He's Binh (Damien Nguyen), a young Vietnamese who has discovered the truth of his parentage.

In Saigon, he's reunited with his biological mother, Mai (Chau Thi Kim Xuan), who finds him some work alongside her, cleaning the home of a wealthy family. But that ends badly, and Binh is forced to flee the city with his younger half-brother, Tam (Tran Dang Quoc Thinh), in tow.

They wind up in a refugee camp with Ling (Bai Ling), a young prostitute who helps smuggle them aboard a ship run by "human traffickers." They find themselves at the mercies of the ruthless Snakehead (Temuera Morrison) and Captain Oh (Tim Roth), the ship's commanding officer.

Eventually, Binh makes his way to America, where he's hoping to find Steve (Nick Nolte), the man he believes is his biological father. However, there are still a few hurdles to get through there, as well.

Co-screenwriter Sabina Murray is Amerasian herself, and she based parts of the film on her experiences. But some of the plotting borders on ludicrous, and newcomer Nguyen is pretty much charisma-free.

It's enough to make you wish the camera would have followed some of the other characters, such as Ling's sympathetic streetwalker or Roth's world-weary sea captain. The real star here is cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh and his camera crews for capturing such breathtaking landscapes in the Far East and on the American continent.

"The Beautiful Country" is rated R for a couple of strong scenes of violence (including a vicious beating, as well as a shooting), scattered use of strong sexual profanity and crude sexual slang terms, and sexual contact. Running time: 125 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com