A Hmong family looks back and moves forward in Caylee So’s quiet drama.
“You were gone. Stay gone.”
Generational divides are a universal truth. In every culture, parents will try to instil their beliefs and values onto the generation below, and inevitably those children will simply develop their own. Old cultural norms are changed or entirely forgotten, and while it’s regrettable, it almost feels inevitable. Time moves forward, and with it customs and rituals fade. This is even more true for immigrant families, who have to both acclimatise to the new world they belong, while keeping a sense of their own identity alive; this is the main theme of The Harvest.
Thai (Doua Moua) is a young man who lives far away from his Cambodian family. When he gets a call from his mother Youa (Dawn Ying Yuen) to visit his ailing father, Thai reluctantly visits home. While his sister Sue (Chrisna Chhor) and his old friends welcome him back with open arms, his father Cher (Perry Yung) seems unmoved. Cher is suffering from kidney failure, and the constant doctor visits and dialysis have made him more stubborn than ever, and his refusal to let go of the old ways has driven a wedge between him and Thai – and, by extension, the whole family.
Caylee So’s film, written by star Doua Moua, has a lot to say about keeping your tenets close in another world, and while many aspects of the story are likely to hit home to a lot of people, there’s also something distinctly specific in the characters that will speak loudly to plenty of Western-raised Asian families. Cher holds onto traditional values, and refuses to let go even when his life is on the line, putting him at odds with everyone else. He doesn’t understand his son’s choices to leave teaching, Sue’s choices to date outside of her race, and he’s extremely reticent to accept modern medicine, let alone a kidney transplant. His refusal to adapt to the modern literally kills him. It’s only when he goes fishing with Thai, that he seems like his old self – and the only time he seems to bond with his son.
The Harvest, for all its realistic portrayals of modern family life and the seemingly minor-yet-huge dramas that pepper it does occasionally wallow in melodrama, as is almost expected of films of its ilk. Thankfully it manages to rise above the shortcomings of its genre through expert direction and a highly talented cast. Moua is the stoic glue that holds a lot of scenes together – reminiscent almost of his father – as the more emotive Chhor and Yuen provide much of the explicit scenes of sentiment. Perry Yung, who has almost as much time on screen as Moua, is a standout performance here, expertly weaving between foolhardy stubbornness and genuine regret.
But where the film shines most is in its exploration of tradition, modernity and how it affects those on either side of the generational gap. As American-born Millenials, Thai and Sue have wildly different takes on life: modern, western ones that are often at odds with their father’s. Youa is torn between worlds, frustrated at her life, husband and even her children but unable to express it properly. Still, as the film muses during its opening narration: Where there is destruction there is birth. The harvest may see the old crops go, but it turns the soil and provides the life needed for a better, stronger yield.
Verdict: Boasting strong performances all around, The Harvest may occasionally move a touch slowly, but it only serves to explore its themes more deliberately.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Most beautiful girls: Yangs, naturally
The Harvest (2023)
Director: Caylee So
Writer: Doua Moua
Doua Moua – Thai
Perry Yung – Cher
Chrisna Chhor – Sue
Dawn Ying Yuen – Youa
Lucas Velazquez – Casey
Alfonso Caballero – Chuck
Christine Lin – Doctor Xie