Family can be difficult. Emotional baggage can be passed down through the generations like a piece of furniture, and if you throw in some cross-cultural pressures for good measure you have the recipe for disaster.
“Beneath the Banyan Tree” is a touching and tender movie that looks at one such family in crisis and finds that there is always space for love and understanding to shine through.
The movie focuses on Chinese immigrant Ai-Jia Woo (Kathy Wu) who has lived in America away from her family for almost 15 years.
Ai tells her demanding mother Jia-Rong Woo (Ah-Lei Gua) that she is a successful writer, when the truth is she is a tour guide in Los Angeles for Chinese tourists. She also fails to mention her American boyfriend Vance (Travis Goodman).
Ai is forced to face up to her deceptions when her brother is arrested in China for embezzlement and her mother has to come live with her with Ai’s teenage niece Qi (Demi Ke) and nephew Yu (Jiayu Wang) in tow.
With her family now living with her and Vance, Ai has to navigate her complicated relationship with her mother while becoming a surrogate parent to Qi and Yu.
Writer/director Nani Li Yang does an excellent job of exploring both the tense family dynamics and the difficult adjustment for Jia, Qi and Yu starting their lives over in the United States.
Jia settles in with acquaintances in the Chinese immigrant community while she worries about her children and clings to her painfully-high standards for them. Qi is bitter and rebellious but finds a kindred spirit in Ai’s young blind neighbor Nathan (Miles Tagtmeyer). Yu has a kind heart and wants to do right by his family while trying to figure out his own place in the world.
The intergenerational strain at play in this family is universally recognizable and the care insight Yang treats it with is impressive.
“Beneath the Banyan Tree” is ultimately a story about love and how the ones you care for the most are the ones that can make you the craziest.
“Beneath the Banyan Tree” is not rated but features adult themes, drug use and some sexuality.