Review by Sean Boelman
The feature debut of writer-director Alan Yang (Master of None), Tigertail is a personal new drama rooted in the same cultural experience that Yang has been so successful at capturing in the past. Yet since it falls victim to many of the issues that typically plague feature debuts, the film is somewhat disappointing.
The movie tells the story of a Taiwanese immigrant who looks back in his older years on his decision to leave his homeland and abandon the woman he truly loved. As is the case with much of Yang’s work on Master of None, the film’s main appeal is the personal touch that it offers and the potential it has to start an important discussion about the immigrant experience.
That said, the flashback structure of the movie works to undermine the story more often than not. By cutting back and forth between the character’s experiences as an immigrant and his quest to come to terms with the decision he made in the past, it is nearly impossible for the audience to form a personal connection with either portion of the storyline.
Part of the film’s issue is that it can’t seem to figure out what its main arc should be. The obvious answer is that it should be focused on the character’s struggles as an immigrant, but instead, the movie seems to emphasize the romantic storyline. This results in the film playing out in a much more conventional way.
Additionally, the movie contains a subplot involving the character’s relationship with his daughter that doesn’t quite work. Unfortunately, here is where Yang’s inexperience with long-form content becomes obvious. Whereas in a series, multiple arcs are explored over the course of a season and the series as a whole, a film like this needs to wrap them all up in an hour and a half, and Yang couldn’t juggle all of the moving elements.
The actors all do a very good job in their roles, but the choppy nature of the narrative leads to many of the performers being underutilized. Tzi Ma gives an absolutely wonderful performance in his role as the older form of the protagonist, although the material he gets to work with is the more shallow of the two.
It is on a technical level that Yang’s movie is most accomplished, so it will be interesting to see what Yang can do with a more cohesive script. There are a lot of absolutely gorgeous shots, particularly in those sequences set in the protagonist’s younger years in Taiwan, and the score of the film is equally impressive.
Tigertail isn’t the directorial debut that fans will be hoping for from Alan Yang, but it does show that he has plenty to say as a filmmaker in his own right. If Yang’s next script is a bit more cohesive and fleshed-out, he may be a force to reckon with.
Tigertail is now streaming on Netflix.