Love and obligation are complex things to be dealing with…
In the feature debut from Writer/Director Alan Yang (who you may know from production and direction credits on shows like The Good Place & Master of None) we get Tigertail which is a uniquely compelling but oddly muted family drama on the complexities of choosing passion over perceived obligations and material success.
Pin-Jui (Hong-Chi Lee) is a free-spirited yet impoverished young Taiwanese factory worker, who makes the difficult decision to leave his homeland — and the woman he loves — behind in order to seek better opportunities in America. But years of monotonous work and an arranged marriage devoid of love or compassion leave an older Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma) a shadow of his former self. Unable to sympathize with his daughter Angela (Christine Ko) and at risk of living out his retirement in solitude, Pin-Jui must reconnect with his past in order to finally build the life he once dreamed of having.
There’s some real brilliance here in Tigertail in this very personal tale of passion and regret but it also unfolds in a very slight fashion that might require a little patience to digest.
For a debut feature, Yang has an incredibly firm eye as he crafts something incredibly visually engaging and he takes great care with his characters throughout the narrative focusing on the struggles of a younger man trying to live the American dream but also take care of his family and provide for them.
It’s really a great look at something that often gets over looked in films of this nature. Sure, our protagonist is likable and noble but he gets so caught up in the single mindedness of his goals that he neglects the people around him, the one’s he’s doing all this for in the first place. He ends up a tragic character looking for some kind of redemption in his life where he can and veteran character Tzi Ma brings such a quiet gravitas to it all that even in these slower moments you just can’t look away.
The narrative could have used a little fleshing out to see the characters motivations and struggles along the way, but this obvious story of redemption and regret feels so incredibly genuine and personal you know that similar versions have been and are being lived out in a diverse range of household all across the United States. It’s all a diverse story of the arc of a man’s life and the things he wishes he does better.
Yang smartly focuses a lot of the narrative on the younger Pin-Jui (played by Hong-Chi Lee) and he does a great job of being that young man at odds in a very socially complex time. Does he follow his passions, or does he look after his immediate family trying to secure themselves a better life? It’s truly a question with no answer and while Lee sets the character up, it all comes through with the subtle and nuanced performance from Tzi Ma. He’s not a man who’d ever apologize for working as hard as he did for his loved ones, but only towards the end of his life does he really see the cost of it all and it’s something that you just can’t look away from.
It’s got a third act that ends in somewhat of an “Oh By The Way” fashion and it could have used a little more character development outside of its leading man but Tigertail shows some genuine strength in giving us a story that is both culturally appropriate, uniquely diverse and wholly universal all at the same time thanks to some excellent storytelling, direction and overall performances that have officially put Alan Yang on our radar as a storyteller worth looking out for.
- Genre: Drama, Family
- Release Date: 4/10/2020
- Directed by: Alan Yang
- Starring: Christine Ko, Hong Chi Lee, Tzi Ma
- Written by: Alan Yang
- Studio: Netflix
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