Volume 75, Number 9 | July 20- 26, 2005

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“Rize” (+)
This documentary on dance, like “Mad Hot Ballroom” which I recently reviewed, is a real joy. The featured dance styles, “krumping” and “clowning,” were invented by Tommy the Clown (Tom Johnson). It is difficult to describe the difference between the two, but the “krumping” movements are similar to those of Michael Jackson in “Thriller” only much faster.

The extemporaneous comments made by team members competing in the Great Western Forum in California are entertaining and sometimes very poignant. An especially emotional moment occurs when Tommy the Clown breaks down after suffering a tragedy having nothing to do with dancing. All in all, it is a very entertaining film and for the most part a joyous picture that will lift your spirits.

Now that I can almost Moonwalk, it is out of style, so I guess I’ll have to take up “krumping.” If I had to choose a favorite among all the dances that I have seen performed in films during the last few weeks, it would be the Salsa.
“The Beautiful Country” (-)
Vietnam dominated the conscience of most Americans for nearly 20 years and extraordinary, true stories of the bravery of veterans like John McCain resulted from that war. But this is not a war story in which hoards of people are trying to leave by helicopter as the North Vietnamese capture Saigon and turn it into Ho Chi Min City.

“The Beautiful Country” begins in 1990. It is the story of Binh (Damien Nguyen) who was born of a Vietnamese mother and an American father. The Vietnamese never accepted these children, but to its credit, the United States allowed thousands of them to come to this country with their mothers after the war ended. That fact is not mentioned in the film.

Binh, about 20 years old, is living with relatives outside Saigon. He towers in height over the other Vietnamese people and is treated as an outcast because his father was an American soldier. He decides to search for his mother, Mai (Chau Thi Kim Xuan), and finds her in Saigon along with a younger half-brother, Tam (Tran Dang Quoc Thinh), the latter not fathered by an American. His mother works as a domestic for a rich family who treat her and Binh, who is hired by the family, very badly.

In a Malaysian refugee camp, Binh meets a Chinese prostitute, Ling (Bai Ling). This was the most interesting part of the film for me. Binh and Ling decide to go to America. Their travels include being smuggled by ship, arriving in New York City’s Chinatown, and later moving on to Texas in search of Binh’s father, Steve (Nick Nolte). The sea voyage, during which the smuggled passengers are treated horribly by the crew, is interesting, but not enough was made of that subject. The captain of the boat is Tim Roth. Accepting this minor role makes me wonder if he, a solid actor, is not being offered any major roles.

This could have been a smashing film if the editors had used more travelogue shots of Vietnam to accompany the film. In addition, Binh’s travels to New York City and Texas were not as interesting as they could have been. I love movies about Vietnam but, regrettably, I didn’t even like this one.

- Ed Koch

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