Tigertail: Netflix Film Review

Tigertail

Alan Yang, who is best known for writing, producing and directing episodes of Parks and Recreation and Master of None, makes his feature directorial debut with Tigertail. If you’re expecting him to stick to his comedy roots, you’d be mistaken – Tigertail is a beautiful and sad multi-generational drama.

The film largely takes place between two timelines. The first is set in the 1950s and follows Pin-Jui (Hong-Chi Lee), a poor Taiwanese factory worker who always dreams of moving to America. When the opportunity presents itself, he marries Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li), his boss’ daughter, and leaves behind his homeland and his girlfriend to start a new life in New York City. However, American life isn’t as glorious as he expected and years of monotonous work and a loveless marriage turn him into a bitter person. The second timeline, set in present-day NYC, follows the older Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma), who struggles to connect with his daughter Angela (Christine Ko).

I found it really sad watching the difference in Pin-Jui between the timelines – he transforms from a happy, free-spirited person dating the love of his life to a lonely, insular old person who looks set to live a life of solitude if he cannot open up and bond with his daughter, who desperately wants to be let in. At first, you wonder what could have happened to make him become the shadow of his former self and the film gradually fills you in. You feel so sorry for him that his American life wasn’t what he dreamed of and that he would have probably been happier staying in Taiwan.

I didn’t love the film’s structure at first because I disliked the quiet, awkward present-day scenes as they interrupted the nice, comfortable flashbacks but I came to appreciate them more as the movie went on and I like how it all came together to reach a satisfying conclusion. I wasn’t as invested in the story as I should have been and I’m not sure if that was because I didn’t warm to Pin-Jui following the America move. In the present day, he is so quiet and in his own head, like talking to people is an effort. Although the focus of the story is on him, my sympathies laid with Zhenzhen – who is so lonely in their NYC apartment while he’s at work all day – and Angela, who doesn’t understand why her father is so cold towards her.

Even though I wasn’t gripped by the story, I could appreciate how beautiful and poignant this character study was and how strong the performances were across the board. What a solid directorial debut from Yang.

Now streaming on Netflix 

Rating: 3.5/5

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