Current Issue #487

Film Review:
Tigertail

Writer/director Alan Yang (Master of None, Parks & Recreation) makes his feature début with this moving, multilingual study of immigrant experiences drawn (to a point) from the life of his father, and yet, like many studies of emotional repression, it can sometimes feel the tiniest bit remote.

Beginning with the first of many Terrence Malick-esque flashbacks, this has young Pin-Jui as a kid in Huwei somewhere, it seems, in the 50s or 60s. Upset by a mirage in the rice fields that reminds him of his missing mother and late Dad, he’s later hidden by his grandmother when soldiers come looking for dissidents and stay on to menacingly insist she speak Mandarin. “Be strong. Don’t let anyone see you cry!” she warns the lad, and this advice is shown to have severely damaged the life of the elderly Pin-Jui, as played by the prolific Tzi Ma (recently seen as Awkwafina’s father in last year’s much-acclaimed The Farewell).

Little Pin-Jui loved the richer Yuan, and they reconnected as twentysomething types (here portrayed by Hong Chi-Lee and Yo-Hsing Fang) and danced to Taiwanese pop songs, but they both really want to move to America, something made apparent in a lovely sequence where they haltingly sing Otis Redding’s classic Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay. However, Pin-Jui’s destiny is to unwillingly relocate to the Bronx with his boss’ daughter Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li), who he doesn’t love but with whom he unwisely has a daughter, Angela.

When Zhenzhen finds a life of her own with help from friendly local Peijing (Cindera Che), Pin-Jui retreats into himself, and when he takes out his anguish on the grown-up Angela (Christine Ko), especially after she suffers a nasty break-up, it’s occasionally hard to watch.

But Yang’s script and his compassionate treatment of the characters mean we understand and mostly feel Pin-Jui’s pain, while Ma’s subtle performance cuts through some of the awkward structure and slightly simplistic final act.

Ah, the past. It never really goes away. Or remains, well, past.

Reviewer Rating
7/10

Tigertail (M) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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