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Hmong family in crisis portrayed in The Harvest

By Jana Monji, Arts & Culture Writer

The Harvest isn’t about farms, or farming or food. Instead, this is about the alienation the eldest son feels when he returns to visit his father, now in fragile health. The son, Thai (writer Doua Moua), and his sister, Sue (Chrisna Chhor),  are the harvest.

The film begins in a faraway land with the mist rising over the mountains but the camera leads us to what becomes the less romantic scene of burnt out forests. The narrator tells us, “I was born during the harvest season, in the season of fire. But where there’s destruction, there’s birth.”

The birth takes place in a simple hut, without the cold, antiseptic hospital hallways, nurses rushing around and harried doctors. A lot changed when this young mother and her husband immigrated to the US long ago. But now the kids are grown.

Thai doesn’t live at home. He went to college in the San Francisco Bay Area and stayed. He wanted to be a writer but works in a restaurant.

The father (Perry Yung, or Father Jun in Cinemax’s Warrior) has a multitude of health problems. He can’t eat salty foods and must carefully monitor his diet while he waits for a life-saying kidney transplant having already reached end-state renal failure. The doctor warns, they “can’t give healthy kidneys to patients who won’t take care of them.” But what’s the point of living, if he can’t enjoy himself?

But this man isn’t easy to live with. He needs dialysis three times a week, but, Sue relates, “He took our car to the chicken fight and then totaled it.”  Sue is too young to drive and the mother works.

As with any good Asian parents, Thai’s mother wants to know: 1) if he has a girlfriend and 2) if she’s Hmong. As the eldest and only son, Thai has a heavy burden. Once, home, we can see what his childhood must have been like, always acting as an interpreter for his parents, particularly his father.

You can probably figure out where this is heading halfway through–both Thai and Sue are keeping secrets from their parents. Director Caylee So sets a deliberate contemplative pace and builds a believable reality. This film is a sensitive portrayal of the pressures that hit the generation bewildered by English and their minority status and the generation who straddles two worlds, belonging entirely to neither.  An old friend tells Thai, “real love is defined by the sacrifices that we make.”  And every Asian family knows that one’s parents have made sacrifices and expect their children to make them as well.

There is a saying that we reap what we sow, but every farmer knows, particularly with global warming factored in, that’s only part of an unpredictable story called life.

The Harvest made its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on 12 February 2023. It’s scheduled to be screened at the Phoenix Film Festival on 24 March 2023.

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