Review: Tigertail

Written and directed by Alan Yang, a multi-generational drama following a Taiwanese factory worker who leaves his homeland to seek opportunity in America, where he struggles to find connection while balancing family and newfound responsibilities. Starring: Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Hong-Chi Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Fiona Fu, Joan Chen, Kuei-Mei Yang, James Saito, Hayden Szeto and Cindera Che.

The film begins in a beautiful countryside landscape with a young boy amongst the wide-open fields, it’s a powerful image for a film that has a strong theme of loneliness and feeling lost, shots like these are where the cinematography gets a good work out but sadly, it’s not too often. We start with a young Grover (Zhi-Hao Yang) who is left to live with his grandmother while his mother tries to work to get enough money to take care of him, and the film immediately jumps into exploring childhood loneliness, it’s done in a quite overt manner but given how deeply those moments impacted the character, it’s worth it. It sets the footing off with a tone of sadness and an almost ominous air that continues throughout, a tone that only shifts in the moments where Grover is with Yuan, his few moments of contentment in a life full of frustrations and unfulfilled wishes.

Though the film is split between three different generations of its characters, undeniably a lot of the story lands on the shoulders of Tzi Ma as the oldest version of Grover, he’s a man of few words and Ma manages so well to hold that restraint while communicating his emotion under the surface. However, this is most certainly an ensemble piece, both the younger and older version of Grover, Yuan and Zhenzhen are compelling to watch. The blooming romance between the younger Grover and Yuan is delightful to watch, it is utterly nostalgic and a scene in which they sing ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding is incredibly sweet. The cinematography is also particularly strong work when evoking the atmosphere of the 1960’s. Each iteration of the characters blend extremely well together, they feel like natural extensions of each performance to keep a strong continuity and connection to the characters throughout.

A constant for its entirety is unspoken emotions, bottling up their feelings, it leaves a lot unsaid but is a great exploration of making the wrong choices for the right reasons and the consequences that follow. Diving into the generation that sought their fortune in America but found themselves lost in an unforgiving and unfriendly land, only intensifying the choice of a marriage of convenience. It’s also an interesting study of a father-daughter relationship and how children inherit their behaviour from parental influence, whether it be good or bad. There was a room to explore Grover’s weakened relationship with his daughter further and it’s a shame that it was used as more of a vehicle to explore his past in the end, rather that a stronger element of the film as a whole. There’s a great deal of lingering and nostalgia, it does hold a keen sadness but at the same time it feels like time that could have been better used to expand each chapter of the story, when looked at in the larger picture, there is only a very small amount of their timelines included. Lang chose to use a non-linear timeline and it’s somewhat messy, it feels like the events could have been shown in a chronological manner to keep a stronger consistency and forward momentum.

Tigertail is weighed down slightly by Grover’s pining for the past, his nostalgia for better days and the roads untaken, it’s a heavy dose of sentimentality that needed to pull back slightly. The story that it’s exploring of reaching life’s latter years and looking back at the decisions you made, wishing for a better life and the love you left behind, is captivating but a shame that it wasn’t explored more deeply. It’s full of a lot of emotion, even if Grover is entirely withholding to all those around him, particularly in his waning relationship with his daughter, which would have been better served to share a little more of the run-time. There’s plenty of great performances to enjoy but in the end, it feels like this film had a lot to offer and we’re only getting to experience a fraction of it.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½

On Netflix now!

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