Alan Yang’s Tigertail is an immigrant story filled with love, heartbreak and generational trauma. One decision can shape many lives.
Tigertail arrived on Netflix and showed why Alan Yang won an Emmy for Master of None. His ability to bring you into the world of his characters is on full display. Though you may not understand the historical references in some of the early scenes, you will still understand enough to appreciate the implications.
Tigertail is loosely based on Yang’s father’s immigrant story and will likely be a familiar story for many Asian Americans. It starts with dreaming of a better life for your family, then a sacrifice, then realizing the dream may not have been all that you expected. Whether you pursue that dream and how you respond to the reality determines the course of your life. It also can affect the next generation if you don’t tell your story.
Tigertail begins with Grover as a child growing up in Taiwan. He grew up without his father and, for a while, had to live with his grandparents. There is an early scene where the political situation causes his grandmother to tell him not to let anyone see him cry and this moment will stick with him. He meets a young girl and they become friends before he has to leave.
As he grows into a young man, he meets this girl again and they are basically living in different worlds. He’s living in poverty and she is from a family that is better off but they still have a connection. This young adult Grover is played by Hong-Chi Lee (Thanatos, Drunk) and his dreams are centered around giving his mother a better life so she doesn’t have to work in a factory anymore. When an opportunity presents itself, he has to make a decision that will shape his life.
We then move to an older Grover, played by Tzi Ma (Arrival, The Farewell), who is a broken man. The decisions he made during his life weigh heavily and he’s not the man he was when he was young. He sacrificed a lot and seems to take that out on his family by being emotionally unavailable.
A few life events happen during the movie that make him reflect on his past and we have to see what decisions he makes going forward.
After watching Tigertail you’re likely to do some reflecting of your own. Those little forks in the road of what has been your life so far. What if you went to a different school instead of the one you chose? What if you had accepted that risky job offer? What if you had gone on that date? It’s difficult reflecting on things you can’t change and Tigertail will bring all of those feelings to the surface.
Going back to Yang and his storytelling, he gets more out of you with less. Some writers like to have big dramatic sets with people yelling and bawling but you won’t get that in Tigertail. You’re more likely to see a change in expression when Grover hears a certain word. You’ll see him take longer than he should trying to think of the perfect word to say in a difficult situation. Or you feel the weight of words unsaid.
These moments hit heavier than those dramatic sets to me because they’re more realistic. There are several moments in Tigertail that will hit you deep in your feelings and all of them are subtle. Later in the film, Grover’s daughter Angela (Christine Ko, Dave) is going through one of those fork-in-the-road moments and he is in a position to help her. Based on where he is in his life it’s not clear if he’s even capable of it but you will hold out hope that he can help her navigate something that he had to navigate alone.
Tigertail is definitely a movie that you will need to buy into early to enjoy. If you need action or over-the-top drama to get into a movie then you’ll want to skip Tigertail. However, if you like family dramas in the vein of The Farewell then you’ll love it.
It’s both a love story and a story of heartbreak. One that speaks of missed opportunities, and the opportunities yet to come. I look forward to whatever Alan Yang does next (hopefully another season of Master of None. Hint hint).
PS: I have to let you know that Tigertail, while there is some English, does have subtitles for most of its duration. I know that can be a problem for some people.
Tigertail is now streaming on Netflix.