Tigertail Review : Netflix’s Taiwanese-American Film Is A Poignant Immigrant Drama About Loss, Love, And A Sense Of Belonging
Format: Web Series
Directed by Alan Yang, co-creator of Master Of None, Tigertail is a deeply moving drama about an immigrant family and how chasing the ‘American Dream’ breaks them apart. The film, starring Christine Ko, Lee Hong-Chi, and Tzi Ma, released on Netflix on April 10.
What Is the Story About?
Pin-Jui, a Taiwanese factory worker, leaves behind everything to start a new life in America; however, he finds himself stuck in a low paying job, which never lets him spend time with his wife. Years later, Pin-Jui looks back at his life with a sense of disillusionment and bitterness about all the things that he couldn’t achieve, and how life turned out to be a lot different than he had imagined it to be. But when his daughter, Angela suffers a personal setback, it gives Pin-Jui a chance to come to terms with his own past and also to mend his relationship with her.
Tigertail is a deeply personal story and by his own admission, Alan Yang wanted to explore the life of his own parents. And in doing so, he has created a quintessential story of most immigrant families, which have had to build their lives in a foreign country at great cost to their personal lives. In the film, the only time we see Pin-Jui truly happy is when he’s at home in Taiwan with his mother; however, the moment he moves to the USA with his wife, Zhenzhen, he hardly has a life of his own. Day after day, the ‘American Dream’ engulfs his life, and by the time, he has achieved what he had set out for, Pin-Jui realises that the whole experience has changed him so much that he has become bitter from the inside. He forgets to smile. He forgets to live. And his flashes of memory from his youth, when he was in love with another young woman, always remind him what he has missed and what his life could have been. This is precisely what makes Tigertail such an intimate and moving portrayal of loss, love, and a sense of belongingness. Despite spending most of his adulthood in the USA, for Pin-Jui, his home is still in Taiwan, where his memories are still alive. Then, there’s the subplot about the estranged relationship between Pin-Jui and his daughter, Angela. The beauty of Tigertail is how it restrains itself from being too melodramatic. So, even when Angela confronts her father about the latter’s past, he just keeps silent. And when he breaks down in the end, his tears, sort of, melt away the walls he has built around himself. The world of Tigertail might feel familiar, but it’s so honest with everything it tries to say that it gives you a lot to brood upon.
Tzi Ma, who played the elder Pin-Jui, delivers a brilliant performance throughout the film. He keeps everything quite subtle and barely expresses his feelings towards his own family. Hing Chi-Lee, who played the younger Pin-Jui, stands out in a complex character, who finds himself from wanting to do what’s best for his mother to living a mundane life in another country. Christine Ko brings a lot of grace to her role (as Angela), and her interactions with Tzi Ma are among some of the best moments in the film.
Music & Other Departments
While Alan Yang’s writing and direction steal the limelight, Tigertail’s striking imagery is hard to overlook, thanks to Nigel Bluck’s gorgeous cinematography. Be it recreating a bygone era in Taiwan, or showing a different side of America, where immigrants from Asian countries often find themselves struggling to assimilate with others, Nigel’s visuals give a different tone to the story. Michael Brook’s music is beautiful and like Pin-Jui’s life, the music is also quite subtle.
Alan Yang weaves a heartfelt drama which tells the story of an immigrant family and the regrets they have in life. Tigertail is also an exploration about what home means and how we choose to keep a few things in our lives close to our hearts, no matter how long or how far we move in life. Some of the best moments in the film show the contrast between what Pin-Jui’s life was like in Taiwan and how it changed once he came to the USA. Apart from the performances of its lead actors, the film leaves a huge impact in terms of how it explores the father-daughter relationship in the story.
Despite being just 90 minutes long, the film’s narrative moves at a slow pace, and the story itself might feel quite familiar for the most part to cinephiles.
Do I recommend it?
Yes! There’s so much to like in Tigertail. Most importantly, it’ll resonate with a lot of people who have seen their families make a lot of sacrifices throughout their lives.