“Beneath The Banyan Tree” directed by Nani Li Yang - An Excellent Look At Generational Family Issues - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Sunday, March 13, 2022

“Beneath The Banyan Tree” directed by Nani Li Yang - An Excellent Look At Generational Family Issues


“A family is like an old, Banyan tree …” is what is told to us, in act one, told to us by the young, Chinese daughter, and mother who takes us on this journey.

“Beneath The Banyan Tree” directed by Nani Li Yang is a gem of an indie film, and Yang is someone to keep an eye on. 

On the surface, the story is simple. Mrs. Woo, who was abandoned by her husband, is a demanding matriarch. Her one goal is to protect her family from outside forces and themselves — with the underlining goal to protect the family's reputation. It’s no surprise that she sets the bar impossibly high and at different degrees of “impossible” for her son (and males, in her life) versus her daughter. 

To Mrs. Woo her daughter, Ai-Jia is headstrong but in reality, from Western standards, she’s trying to live her own life. Heads butt when Mrs. Woo is forced to leave China, and flee to the U.S. it’s in disgrace because her son and daughter-in-law were jailed, so she takes her teenage grandchildren, pliable Yu and rebellious Qi, and now all are under Ai-Jia’s roof. 

The transformation isn’t easy for Mrs. Woo whose hearts’ desire is to uphold her family's remaining reputation. Poor  Ai-Jia can’t seem to get anything right in her mothers’ eyes and having an American, white boyfriend, who also lives with them now, just adds more fuel into the simmering fire.

And we do have empathy for Ai-Jia who is suffering from career disappointments toiling in a job that’s far away from her dreams and goals. 

Now in America, the two teenagers are quickly developing their sexual identity a surprise that Mrs. Woo wasn’t expecting. 

Imagine the pressure of four people, three generations forced to start a new life under each other's expectations. What could go wrong? The answer is everything. What could go right? A lot. In a strange way, it was being forced to leave China that helped start the healing process and to manage the expectations placed on all of them through their culture. 

Here’s what director Nani Li Yang had to share about why she made the film. “In Chinese culture, one should put family above the individual, yet this tradition is increasingly strained today. As a Chinese immigrant myself, I witness a large group of senior immigrants in the U.S. who lack English proficiency yet migrate to be with their children. They struggle to guard their family unity and cultural beliefs in a new country. They express their love by giving up their life-long beliefs for the next generation, regardless of how fearful they are. I believe this kind of love is also found deeply entrenched in all different cultures. Through this film, not only do I want to share their unheard voice to U.S audiences but, I hope audiences can find a sense of peace and balance between their individuality and familial expectations.”

It’s easy to see how “Beneath the Banyan Tree” took home the Visionary Award at the prestigious Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose; the Audience Award at Dances with Films in Los Angeles; Best Writer in LA Femme International Film Festival; Best Writer and Actress in the Paris International Film Festival.

“Beneath the Banyan Tree” is a fast-moving 110 minutes, directed by Nani Li Yang. Starring Ah-Lei Gua, Kathy Wu, Demi Ke, Jiayu Wang, and Travis Goodman.

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