Sunday, May 3, 2020

Tigertail - Movie Review

The Movie: Tigertail

The Director: Alan Yang

The Cast: Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Hong-Chi Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Fiona Fu, Joan Chen, Kuei-Mei Yang, Cindera Che, Kunjue Li

The Story: A Taiwanese factory worker leaves his homeland to seek opportunity in America, where he struggles to find connection while balancing family and newfound responsibilities in this multi-generational drama.

The Review:
Normally, I'm not a big fan of the quality usually seen in Netflix movie releases although there have been a few exceptions like Roma and Extraction. I hadn't heard much about this movie except that the people who have watched it have really enjoyed it so I decided to give it a go without watching a trailer or even looking up the plot. All I knew is that Alan Yang has been prolific as a producer and writer of TV shows like Parks and Recreation and that this would be his first stab at creating a feature film.

From what I understand, this is a completely fictional story although Yang did inject a lot of real life emotion and loosely based on it how he envisions his own father's journey moving from Taiwan to America. The end result is a somber yet emotionally affecting tale that touches on so many different family dynamics and how moments in life affect who we become for better or for worse. The story plays out over three different time periods, all focusing on the character Pin-Jui, primarily played by Tzi Ma who I last saw as Awkwafina's father in The Farewell. At the beginning of the movie, we see a young Grover learn some harsh life lessons that directly lead to decisions he makes in early adulthood, played by Hong-Chi Lee, and ultimately shape who he becomes later in life.

What's even more interesting is how Pin-Jui's decisions not only affect who he becomes, but also they also have an impact on those around him all the through to his two children. Christine Ko plays Pin-Jui's daughter Angela and the dynamic between the two as they struggle to interact with each other is filled with so many different emotions and I would say mostly frustration and heartbreak. Yang does such a good job of creating fully realized characters that we can understand and relate to mainly because of how flawed they are as human beings.

Tzi Ma is especially brilliantly gives a very understated performance that somehow conveys so much emotion and information about how much of an internal struggle is going on inside his head and heart. There are moments where you just see Pin-Jui sitting at a table and, while it might seem like such a mundane moment, you also see on his face and in his eyes, a world of internal conflict about how he has lived his life and what type of man he has become yet stubbornly afraid to break out of that reality and existence. If there was an award for subtlety in a performance, Tzi Ma would win no contest.

One of the more powerful scenes in the movie comes from Angela and Pin-Jui meeting for lunch during a time when neither of them really understand each other and their mutual stubbornness ultimately gets in the way of any authentic communication. So much is said in this scene aside from the actual dialog and how it unfolds is just really good story telling. Especially when the rest of the story unfolds and the two end up at least on a common footing to where they can understand each other and have a true father/daughter relationship.

Oh man, I just realized I haven't even gone into so many different aspects of the movie's plot threads although I feel like a lot of it is better left for you to watch it unfold on your own. I keep thinking how impressed I was with just how deep into the characters Yang is able to go while maintaining a consistent narrative through three timelines. The movie is only an hour and a half yet I feel like he was able to pack a full lifetime's worth of story into that relatively brief amount of time. That being said, the deliberate pacing of the story may not have played as well with a longer run time so I will trust that Yang made the right decisions on what to keep in and what to leave out.

From what I understand John Cho actually had a role in the movie that was completely cut out during the editing process, I want to say he would have been Pin-Jui's son but not 100% sure. While I'm sure the scenes would have been great to see, the addition of another character may have been a bit too much for the story so probably better to leave him out. I did like how Yang had a direct line of focus in how Pin-Jui's decisions directly affected and were affected by the women in his life especially coming from a starting point where his father had died very early on.

The Verdict:
Tigertail is powerful storytelling that digs deep into Taiwanese culture by exploring the complexities of how we exist as human beings. Alan Yang has created an impressive debut feature film and Tzi Ma turns in an emotionally powerful performance that adds yet another milestone to an already amazing career..

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