Tigertail REVIEW – A Moving Tale of the Immigrant Experience

Alan Yang delivers something nearly special with his feature film debut.

Alan Yang’s Tigertail is a thoughtful and visually stunning film. You can see the intricate care woven into the film, and given that the movie is loosely based off Yang’s father’s immigrant experience, we can certainly understand the investment. It has a non-linear narrative, where we bounce between the present and the past, seeing the events that led to the journey to America, only to make the discovery of the emptiness inherent in the golden promises of the American dream.

Yang uses differing colour palettes to distinguish the past and the present, with the past in Taiwan inundated with the warm yellow tones of nostalgia, and the present taking on a whiter, more sterile look. This makes sense since Pin-jui (played by Tzi Ma in the present and Hong-Chi Lee in the past) is filled with regret with what he left behind; the future he could have had with the beautiful vivacious woman Yuan (played by Yo-Hsing Fang in the past and Joan Chen in the present), a space that truly belongs to him, as well as a mother he never saw again until her death.

In the present he and his wife are no longer together, he is distant from his children, and his life is rather mundane and hollow. Yang simply lets us ruminate in Pin-jui’s personal space, with Tzi Ma conveying brilliantly the aching loneliness, with no means of alleviating this state. There is much lament here, for his younger self had eyes full of stars and bright dreams, his life drenched with promises as sensual as his dance moves.

In any Asian film, you would notice that food and eating is used as a centre-piece to showcase interactions between the different characters. Yang shows us the contrast between Pin-jui’s meal with Yuan, which was lighthearted and filled with gusto, to the boring interaction shared with Zhenzhen (young Zhenzhen played by Kunjue Li, and the older Zhenzhen played by Fiona Fu). We can see the resentment pile onto Pin-jui over the years, having been forced to choose a wife he didn’t want, striving to make an effort with her, while she only responds in a lukewarm manner.

Throughout the film, we see Pin-jui’s daughter Angela (Christine Ko) desperate to make a connection with her father. He doesn’t engage her, doesn’t invite her into his life, very much the stereotypical stoic Asian parent. When Pin-jui does open up to her, it doesn’t feel cliched – there is no sudden oversharing, just a mere tiny glimpse of what his life had been, and the losses he experienced along the way.

My main gripe with the film is that while it may be technically competent, with especially memorable sequences (that concluding shot comes to mind), but it feels a bit cold in the centre. The past just isn’t vibrant enough, the present is dancing in oblivion – where then does the viewer sink his emotional anchor? Even Angela, who should command more of the film’s space, is such a bland and empty character. She is left heartbroken by this guy Eric, who is her supposed great love, but once again we aren’t shown that vibrancy, which would allow us to weep for what has been lost.

Tigertail is certainly one of the better movie experiences you will find on Netflix – an interesting film to spend a few hours on, but won’t etch itself onto you like a truly great film would.

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Tigertail is a visually interesting film, using its non-linear narrative to great effect, but missing just a little bit of heart.