April 9, 2020

SCREEN | Romance and Regret – 'Tigertail' Memories on Netflix

"Eventually, your life is what you'll have in common."
Hong Chi-Lee Kunjue-Li Fang Alan Yang | Tigertail Netflix
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Master of None co-creator and seasoned television writer/producer Alan Yang makes his feature directorial debut with a moving, multi-generational immigrant tale inspired by his own father's personal journey from Taiwan to America. Told mostly through spoken Mandarin or Taiwanese with different actors playing the same characters spanning decades, Tigertail quietly moves its story of family history forward through a wonderful cast and vibrant romantic imagery.

Veteran character actor Tzi Ma stars as our protagonist Pin-Jui in the present. Ma's aged, weary face expresses such a quiet emotional distance as he excels in a rare lead role. A handsome Hong Chi-Lee as his younger counterpart frames the starcrossed love story co-starring a ferocious heartbreaker in Yo-Hsing Fang as his first love. Their scenes in the past perfectly capture the highs and lows of young romance set against the economic realities of the time.

Actress Christine Ko as Pin-Jui's grown American-born daughter Angela parallels their lives generationally nicely. Ma and Ko are easy mirror images of each other. Their characters should understand one another because of their many similarities, but it's what so clearly drives them so far apart emotionally.

Yo-Hsing Fang John Cho Alan Yang | Tigertail Netflix

Clearly influenced by classic Chinese cinema and shades of Wong Kar-wai's romanticism, Tigertail has an impressive overall look to it. Scenes in the past have a nostalgic glaze (shot on 16mm film) with pop music and a warm, faded quality. Yang shares a very familiar experience with a refreshing Southeast Asian lens and bent. Scenes of working-class 1970s-era New York from a Chinese point of view recontextualize the Asian-American experience.

Through his self-reflection on generations, Yang bluntly gets across how the dramatic choices we make as young people can stay with us far longer than they should if left unresolved. How the timely drama unfolds through its strained father/daughter personifies regret and longing so effectively.

Despite the abundance of talent and style, Yang struggles at times to balance the dual timelines and their divergent tone and casts. We hardly get to know present day Pin-Jui and Angela due to their closed off natures while the movement in time and early end to the film's bursting romanticism gives way to the quiet regret of the story.

Yang further proves his versatility as a storyteller as he changes directions from American comedy to Asian drama deftly. It's an affecting tale of family and romance with a universal theme of opportunity. Tigertail's elegiac quality fits its simple, sweeping tone with an artistic precision. It's a generational love letter to our immigrant parents' struggle for a better life.

Tigertail is available to stream on Netflix.


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