Bee has run away once again into the beloved mountains that surround his village after the death of a friend by gunfire. War planes zoom overhead. He climbs the tallest tree he can find. He is looking for a father who has been long dead, wondering where his friend has gone. His mother and older brother look for him in the undergrowth, afraid he will get killed. On his tree limb, the boy holds tight as canopies of forest fall around him.
In the middle of a jungle, Bee passes by a young woman with beads in her hair named Chue. A love story begins. The figure of a young man and woman dance in a jungle ballroom. When the soldiers come, they flee in the same direction.
Chue is pregnant. The soldiers are coming. Bee and the rest of the men must leave the women and children. Underneath the overhang of a bamboo grove, the young couple parts. Bee tells Chue, “If I do not return, find a way to your mother, she will love you and our child.”
A reunion in the dark. Fire explodes into the night, as the group of refugees run for a river that will separate their past from their future forever—a land on the other side of the rushing water, a country on the other side of the green earth.
In Thailand, Bee befriends two dogs. He finds out refugees cannot take pets with them. Bee must say goodbye.
In America, Bee and Chue are impoverished refugees, living in the housing projects, raising two girls. They sing of fallen dreams while their girls learn the songs of America. Bee finds work in a factory where his supervisor pushes the men to work “harder, faster, smarter!”—as the machines cry with them.
Bee’s daughters look for pathways to the future. One decides to become a writer, to share the story of her father with a world he has grown afraid of believing in. They discover that “sisters are life partners, too.”
In the epilogue, the family returns to the high mountains of Laos. The old tree has long disappeared. In its place, a new one grows. The mountains stand—jagged remains holding true all that had been and all that can still be. Bee realizes, his wife beside him, his girls in front of him, that time holds the treasures he was afraid to believe in, that indeed the Hmong brothers and sisters have found a way forward.