An immigrant’s complicated story

Although an important message, Tigertail crowded too much into one short movie



Writer-director Alan Yang made this scene tense and emotional as a young Pin-Jui takes one last glance at his home town in Taiwan with his new wife beside him.

Emma Baker, Staff Reporter

Listening to the screeching of cousins and the “I can’t hear yous” from my grandparents this morning made it blatantly clear: The human experience isn’t the same through a Zoom call. Many people, like me, are craving the kind of feel-good human connection that we are missing in day-to-day life. That word—connection—is exactly what melds the (mediocre) plotline, characters and conflict together in the new movie Tigertail.

Released straight to Netflix on April 10th, Tigertail relays an immigrant’s story of love, loss and sacrifice based loosely on the life of writer and director Alan Yang’s father.

Based somewhat on Alan Yang’s real relationship with his father, the scene displays an older Pin-Jui trying hard to connect with his daughter Angela.

Pin-Jui (Lee Hong-Chi) grew up amongst his grandparents’ rice fields of Taiwan. When his mother Minghua (Yang Kuei-Mei) was finally able to take care of Pin-Jui on her own, they worked taxing hours together in a dangerous factory. Pin-Jui dreamt of the day he would be able to move himself and his mother to America for a better life.

When the opportunity arose, however, there was one condition: marrying his boss’s daughter. Pin-Jui had to let go of deep feelings he had for another woman, Yuan (Yo-Hsing Fang)—all in the name of him and his mom living the American dream…or so he thought.

It was not the glamorous life he had envisioned. While the canyon of distance continued to widen between him and his wife Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li), their child Angela (Christine Ko) became the only thing keeping them together. But even that couldn’t last forever.

And so, it truly all begins when the older Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma) returns to America after his mother’s funeral in Taiwan and comes to the startling realization his daughter needs him. He can no longer be the silent, but overbearing father he has been Angela’s whole life. The focus changes from the grueling concepts of love and understanding between husband and wife to now repairing a long-broken relationship between father and daughter.

Although conflicts like those can be impactful and deeply rooted, the plotline was a few hills and many confusing valleys. While that portrays the harsh accuracy of how an immigrant adjusts to uprooting their life, I felt the movie was missing a greater sense of conflict which would have aroused a better, more dramatic translation to film. It was definitely a slow wind to the climax of the tale.

Nonetheless, a feeling of realism and drama was definitely made evident by Yang’s brilliant use of subtitles and language. When flashbacks were in Taiwan, they spoke Taiwanese and Mandarin with English subtitles along the bottom of the screen. When they were in present-day America, they floated purposefully between English and Taiwanese. I enjoyed the full immersion of the culture as it offered a peek into the sharp contrast of Taiwan to America through the eyes of an immigrant.

From the cinematography, repetitive shots, balanced angles and detailed sets, I could truly see through those eyes as Yang had envisioned. Except for one thing: the music. It screamed of outdatedness and was unmatching to most of the feelings the actors were trying to provoke.

And strong, representative actors like Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Kunjue Li and Yo Hsing-Fang do not deserve that. They were able to provide an authenticity through the screen that single-handedly drew me into the story. Tzi Ma provided Pin-Jui’s depth of character well, providing fatherly sternness at first but later showing passion to put judgement aside for his daughter. Of course, Hong-Chi Lee and Yo Hsing-Fang can’t go unappreciated for really selling their young love perfectly. They made me wish there was much more time spent learning about their story.

The film was eye-opening and certainly produced with care. But it lacked a greater, more unifying conflict and focused story to pull it all together. Limiting the characters and mini-conflicts would have made this story much more clear and impactful. In addition, the fact that it is mostly subtitles will not make it a first pick for everyone. However, I would recommend people to watch Tigertail if they’re patient, looking for something that will crack their heart and emphasize the power of connection.