Airlifted to safety with his father's family in the waning days of the South Vietnamese government, Tony Bui did not return to his homeland until he was 19, and his immediate reaction was to flee. "I'd never experienced heat like that in my life. And the humidity! There was no air conditioning." Yet, unbeknownst to him, he was embracing his birth country, and within an hour of landing in America, he wanted to go back. So began the filmmaker's love affair with Vietnam, which would see him return once or twice a year thereafter, for weeks or months at a time, to gain greater fluency in Vietnamese and try to understand why "all the things I hated--the heat, the dust, the noise, the motorcycles--became things I needed." His mother's family had stayed behind, and his uncle Don Duong, one of the country's best known actors, was in a highly advantageous position to help Bui hurdle the obstacles he would encounter filming in Vietnam. After shooting his thesis short "Yellow Lotus" (1995, starring Duong) there, he attended the 1996 Sundance Filmmakers and Screenwriters Lab, where he developed his "Three Seasons" (1999) screenplay, captivating Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente of the New York production company Open City Films. Undaunted by his insistence on shooting entirely in Vietnam, they came aboard and persuaded October Films to finance the project and Harvey Keitel to play the sole American role.