The choices we make in our lives can have far-reaching consequences, though sometimes the impact of a decision can take years to manifest or understand. Most of us regret at least one choice we’ve made, and it’s often the path not taken that causes the most disappointment.
That cycle of feelings is at the heart of Tigertail, the new Netflix movie written and directed by Alan Yang (known for his work on Master of None, among others). The obviously personal story follows Pin-Jui (Hong-Chi Lee), a Taiwenese factory worker who lives with his mother and dreams of moving to the United States. He has a woman he loves, but an arranged marriage that would facilitate the trip to America changes the course of his life.
Years later, Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma) now lives alone and has a fraught relationship with his daughter, Angela (Christine Ko). The film toggles back and forth among multiple stages in Pin-Jui’s life as he contemplates the choices he’s made and how well he’s treated his various loved ones and himself.
Yang, inspired by a trip he took to Taiwan with his father, set out to make a movie about the way that a lack of communication in families can change the way each member perceives the other. Pin-Jui wants nothing more than to become a success to give his mother a better life, but doesn’t really listen to what she wants. When he’s older, he can’t understand what his daughter is doing with her life, having grown up in a completely different culture.
It’s clear where Yang wants to take the story and, befitting his Emmy-winning TV work, he lays everything out and connects the pieces effectively. But, perhaps fittingly given the hidden emotions of the characters, the film fails to establish a true emotional connection. The regrets of Pin-Jui are understandable, but Yang may have been too sparing in his storytelling to allow the audience all the way in.
Tzi-Ma, a familiar face in American movies and TV for decades, is an ideal choice to play the older Pin-Jui. He has a natural world-weary look to his face that fits the character well, and his interactions with the equally-good Ko speak volumes even when they’re silent. Lee is given the task of playing the character the most, and the success the film does have is because of how he sets up the evolution of Pin-Jui.
Tigertail is a well-made movie that could have used a more fleshed-out story to fully reach its potential. Still, in a world with few new movies coming out, it’s well worth the time of anyone looking for something fresh to watch at home.