Directed by: Alan Yang
Written by: Alan Yang
Starring: Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Hayden Szeto, Lee Hong-chi, Kunjue Li, Fiona Fu
Oh, the decisions we make and how they set us up on a path that can be impossible to walk back. At times it takes a whole lifetime to think of what a different journey may have resulted. Emotionally distant yet incredibly bountiful, Tigertail allows us to see a complete life and what makes our parents who they are.
Now a man who appears to be disconnected from everyone, we see Pin-Jui’s (Tzi Ma) upbringing back in Taiwan from his childhood, adolescence, and what made him come to America. Along with his journey we see Pin-Jui’s daughter, Angela (Christine Ko) try to connect with him.
Opening on a Taiwanese field with a young Pin-Jui shows how much beauty can be shrouded by the pain of circumstance. It looks beautiful to any onlooker, but it shows a young boy required to stay with his grandparents while his mother looks for work. Pin-Jui must be hidden each time authorities come around but he meets a friend that gets him through a life that is far from ideal. It begets a relationship that will define Pin-Jui’s life and what he values.
The progression of Pin-Jui in this story shows a person that adapts to his surroundings and with each phase, he begins to form a hard shell around him, which comes to completion when he gets to America. His life demonstrates someone who had dreams put away by responsibility, which may have benefited everyone around him, but unhappiness reigned in the end.
Tigertail ultimately tells a beautiful and melancholic immigrant story, which centers on one man’s experience and how it has impacted generations around him. It demonstrates the power of decision-making and when responsibility takes charge. The narrative also follows Pin-Jui’s relationship with the women of his life, which definitely factor into his development as a man. Whether it be his daughter, mother, or lovers of his past and present. The film was written and directed by Alan Yang, who gained some notoriety for co-creating the hit Netflix series, Master of None. That allowed Yang the opportunity to bring this deeply personal story to life and I’m glad he got the opportunity to do so because it peels back a layer of a cold man, unwilling to budge emotionally.
Along with Pin-Jui’s story, we see how his daughter, Angela, manages to connect to someone who’s always been too harsh and unsupportive emotionally. That makes itself clear when she starts to tear up about a recent situation in her life. Where anyone would say that things will get better or that it will all be okay, Pin-Jui just sits there in silence. She looks at him in shock asking if he’s going to say anything to which he responds, “there’s nothing to say.” It becomes a foundational moment of this film as it shows that this person does not embody the person we see in his childhood and adolescence. The structure cuts between the two timelines to show his young exuberance dissipate under the reality of this responsibility. Something he did with an intended purpose and got nothing in return.
The content of the story would always connect with me because I could identify with the character of Angela. As a son of immigrants, it always intrigued me to see what the life of my mother must have been when she grew up in the Dominican Republic. I’ve heard the stories of her upbringing and living a simpler life devoid of technology. As much as I try to imagine, there would be no way to fully capture that different time period in a nation that does not match this country’s geography. It might as well be an entirely different world. In Tigertail, we get more of a look into the past of Pin-Jui than Angela gets for most of her life.
From the beautiful visuals that capture the grind of immigrant life in 1970s New York and the love of the homeland in Taiwan, Tigertail tells a sneakily affectionate story onto the audience that seeks to pierce through a man that appears to have lost his ability to smile. I felt the pain that ran through the mind of Pin-Jui and Tzi Ma brought it to life in a way that only he could do. This film will make you want to call your parents and learn more about them, because they may have lived a much more exciting life than you were meant to believe.