Stories resonate and have a stronger connection with audiences when it has key specificities that give them more layers and nuance. So when something like The Harvest comes along, it can explore the complexities of family dynamics and make much more of a connection through a cultural lens.
And it has even much more of an impact as the film speaks to the Hmong experience. It’s a story about the lives we want to live for ourselves, cultural traditions, and the ties that bind us to our family.
Directed by Caylee So, who uses a script written by co-producer and star Doua Moua, The Harvest follows Thai, the estranged son who returns home to help his ailing father, Cher (Perry Yung), only to set off a chain of events that affect him, his family, and the Hmong community.
While The Harvest is a reminder of our familial bonds, in large part, it recognizes that diversity is so much more than bringing more diversity and inclusivity to the screen. It means letting the storytellers tell the stories they want to tell through their voices. That authenticity is essential, not just to the scribe but to the larger audience. The former can set the narrative without worrying about outsiders telling them how to write or what it does or doesn’t need. The latter will better engage with what is going on the screen because the story comes from a place of honesty. What’s more, The Harvest is an opportunity to show there is more to Asian American stories than what the larger studios offer or have us believe. These Hmong stories show Asian Americans are not a monolith and prove that their experiences differ from the next.
And The Harvest shows what diversity means in a larger context. The film reveals some of the cultural nuances of the Hmong community through a beautiful wedding ceremony between Thai’s old flame and his best friend. We also see more family dynamics and generational rifts through the Hmong lens. It’s an aspect of the film that should resonate with those who experienced living with high expectations and how they become more of a burden to those trying to find their place. And Cher sees his family’s breaking away from his beliefs and traditions as a form of treachery and a sign of unappreciation. But, of course, this only pushes them further away.
Thai represents the prodigal son character in The Harvest as the son who comes home after being estranged for so long and returning home to a familiar place where he gets a variety of welcomes from warm to cold. He forges his own identity by breaking away from the typical expectations of what it takes to be successful in life. And though that may cause a bit of a rift between him and his father, the film reminds us about the strength of family bonds during extraordinarily uncertain times.
The Harvest isn’t just a film about a son coming back home. It’s also a story about the different relationships that co-exist within the family. There’s the mother-daughter story between Youa (Dawn Ying Yuen) and Sue (Chrisna Chhor). Though the two have been living with Cher in the same household, they have their own complicated relationship that comes with living with a father who still believes in arranged marriages and seems to be repulsed by interracial relationships.
By trusting the storyteller, we get to hear their voice and believe their experiences because they come from an authentic place. Moua’s performance is stoic and distant, as one would be when returning to a place where the pressures and expectations of a demanding father are what welcome you. Returning to those traumas isn’t easy, and it’s even harder to be more open since the film features a tight-knit community. Although, some may consider this kind of performance as too emotionally distant, making it harder for some audiences to connect with the lead protagonist.
The Harvest illustrates why it is so vital to tell diverse stories from different perspectives. Moua’s script captures these human stories, whether its through the wedding or dialysis treatment, through the Hmong lens. And while those cultural and specificities are appreciated, some of the latter may not connect with the audience. At a tight 109 minutes, So takes Moua’s script to deconstruct family life to reveal the pain characters hide from each other. And that kind of emotional nuance is what we need to see more of in any film.