A Family Affair

‘The Harvest’ Is an Inside Look at What Happens When Families Break Free from Tradition and Cultural Expectations

· Updated on April 14, 2023

In director Caylee So’s latest film, The Harvest, perspectives on gender norms, queerness, tradition, and family come together in a touching feature that places an Asian family at its epicenter. Written by Doua Moua and starring Moua, Perry Yung, Dawn Ying Yuen, and Chrisna Chhor, The Harvest tells the story of Thai (Moua), a young man who returns home to take care of his ailing father, Cher (Yung). Thai originally left his traditional Hmong family, consisting of his father, mother Youa (Yuen), and sister Sue (Chhor) to live his own life in San Francisco. But his return home shows him that he can’t run from his past and that he’s not the only one seeking to break away from longstanding cultural traditions. 

The Harvest covers plenty of territory, but mainly becomes an inside look into Hmong culture and the family that struggles to navigate a world where cultural traditions brought from home seem to fade away in the United States. From Youa and Cher’s backstories to highlighting a Hmong wedding to conversations between different generations of Hmong characters, all highlight a rich culture, but also place a spotlight on the nuanced differences between different generations of members from Hmong community in the United States – specifically Southern California.

Thai and each member of his family represent a different connection to the conservatism they were raised in, but each struggles with it in their own way. For Thai and Sue, they struggle to live a life of their own, free from undue obligation, but not of the love they have for their family. Youa walks a fine line between breaking away from tradition and trying to help herself and her children navigate it. Whereas Cher is trying to keep the traditions he was raised in alive and well. 

While all of the family navigate the effects of immigration, whether directly (Youa and Cher) and indirectly (Thai and Sue), the film also demonstrates how different elements of sexuality, gender norms, interracial dating, and intergenerational relationships are all impacted through conservatism, tradition, and Hmong culture. It may seem ambitious to cover all of these within a film that’s under two hours, but Moua’s writing, So’s directing, and Brian Nguyen’s cinematography carefully find ways to have these elements shine within The Harvest, while still following the story of Thai’s return home to support his family. 

Actors Yuen and Chhor provide plenty of charm and energy to the film that’s emphasized when they share the screen opposite Moua and Yung’s laconic characters. Additionally, this draws out comparisons and contrasts between Yuen/Chhor and Moua/Yung, as they embody each other’s “what if” scenario when it comes to breaking or not breaking tradition – furthering the looming tension within the film. 

Speaking of tension, it echoes throughout The Harvest in each interaction between the cast. This quickly crumbles apart within the film’s final act, which feels cathartic while watching, but also seems a bit abrupt. Yet, that’s how the ups and downs of family dynamics can feel. 

One dynamic in particular is highlighted through a scene in the final act that demonstrates how life can be when people are allowed to live out the lives they want. The juxtaposition of how each family member, but especially Cher, experiences this moment is a defining one for the film.

The Harvest is a beautiful window into the life of an Asian family juggling obligation, tradition, and freedom, but also how that changes in the face of Western values. While various components of the film feel universal, The Harvest is a love letter to the Asian community and to immigrant families wrestling with Western values and the “American Dream”.

Don't forget to share:

Read More in Entertainment
The Latest on INTO