Tigertail

Alan Yang’s directorial debut, a film chronicling a man’s journey from Taiwan to America, premiered Friday on Netflix.

As a man now living in America looking back on his past in Taiwan with nostalgia, Yang gives us a beautiful picture of a modern immigration story. It’s one about hard work and the realities of an immigrant’s life.

Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma) recalls the different relationships he’s had in the past to try and reconcile a relationship with his adult daughter, whom he doesn’t speak to much. Throughout the film, Pin-Jui seems to become progressively less happy, as we see the toll that his work and his marriage have taken on him.

The film incorporates three languages in different parts: Taiwanese, Mandarin and English — with different subtitles delegated for each. Although some viewers may think subtitles are annoying to read, in this film, I think they make the cultural divides easier to understand. When we can see which characters speak Mandarin, Taiwanese or English to each other, it becomes easier to keep track of the relationships between the characters.

“Tigertail” builds a sense of nostalgia through slow motion shots and a green motif. From the lush green fields of Pin-Jui’s childhood in Taiwan to the backdrops of his house in America, green follows Pin-Jui.

This is not a movie meant to make you feel happy. It’s a movie meant to make you empathize with the characters on the screen. All the characters we see are realistic, and the relationships between them are just as nuanced and complicated as those in real life.

Of course, we can attribute much of this to the talents of the actors. Christine Ko gives an especially moving performance as Angela, Pin-Jui’s daughter in the film. She’s going through hardships in her own life but feels completely abandoned by her father.

This film is as much about the relationship between a father and daughter as it is a film about the past. As Pin-Jui tries to negotiate a working relationship with Angela, it’s clear the two don’t know each other very well and never have. Yet, at the end of the day, they’re all each other has.

It’s a moving way to tell the story, because its notion of self-awareness makes the film realistic, but not pessimistic. We know early on that this film does not have a happy ending, yet it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly negative.

As “Tigertail” ends, viewers are left with an impression of nostalgia and acceptance. Although aspects of his life didn’t go as he wanted, Pin-Jui’s attitude at the end of the film isn’t one of sadness or regret, but one of realization and acceptance that this is his past.

“Tigertail” is a beautiful film and impressive directorial debut from Yang. While it doesn’t say anything profound, it’s a picture of human life — a way to see others that makes us think about ourselves more deeply. 

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