Tigertail

 

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A Taiwanese immigrant looks back at a life of loss and regret, while heeding his grandmother’s words: “crying never solves anything”.

 

Tigertail

Love was such an easy game to play: Zhi-Hao Yang and Hai-Yin Tsai 

 

In stricken times, Netflix continues to be a beneficiary of the cinematic arts, and not just for the oeuvre of Martin Scorsese and Adam Sandler. Its giant pockets also enable foreign-language filmmakers to tell deeply personal stories, be they Alfonso Cuarón or Alan Yang. That doesn’t mean every voice finds its perfect pitch, but at least it has a chance to succeed – or to fail. Here, Yang draws on his own father’s experience as a Taiwanese immigrant, with a good deal of poetic licence.

 

Indeed, the film starts with a poetic flourish, and is narrated by Yang’s own father, talking of his childhood over a blank screen. Pin-Jui’s own father died when he was just a year old, while his mother left him to find work elsewhere. So Pin-Jui is brought up by his grandmother in the rice fields of Taiwan, where he befriends Yuan, the daughter of a local wealthy family. These early scenes are beautifully evoked, in the tradition of many world cinema classics featuring children. As Pin-Jui grows into a rakish young man with charisma to spare, his friendship with Yuan takes on a romantic turn, in spite of their disparate backgrounds. Now Pin-Jui is employed at the factory where his mother toils and is made an offer by the foreman which he feels he cannot refuse…

 

As Tigertail proceeds – the title being the literal English translation of the Taiwanese province Huwei – the narrative cuts back and forth between the young Pin-Jui and his elder self. The latter, played by Tzi Ma (The Farewell, Arrival), is a reticent, melancholy figure, who is as laconic as his former incarnation is loquacious. And as the narrative acquires a semblance of shape – although few specifics are vouchsafed – the narrative reveals its deficiency. As a piece of storytelling, Tigertail leaves a lot to be desired. Tzi Ma manages as much as he can with very little – he is a largely wordless, monolithic presence – while Christine Ko as his grown-up daughter, Angela, fails to convince as a real character. Pin-Jui’s other child, Bobby, is inexplicably absent, as if several pages of the script had got mangled in the printer. Michael Brook’s plangent score struggles to find a note of variety, while the film’s bullet points of plot seem to become increasingly random.

 

A certain cinematic flair might have papered over these cracks, but Yang seems content to present his scenes in a spartan chain of events, failing to give them any credible spark of life. Yang’s original script ran to 250 pages and one senses that his ruthless reduction has crippled what is left. Despondent understatement is all well and fine, but not at the expense of conviction and cohesion.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Hayden Szeto, Lee Hong-chi, Kunjue Li, Fiona Fu, Yang Kuei-mei, James Saito, Joan Chen, Cindera Che, Zhi-Hao Yang, Hai-Yin Tsai, Lynn Cheng.

 

Dir Alan Yang, Pro Charles King, Kim Roth, Poppy Hanks and Alan Yang, Ex Pro John Cho, Screenplay Alan Yang, Ph Nigel Bluck, Pro Des Amy Williams, Ed Daniel Haworth, Music Michael Brook, Costumes Olga Mill.

 

MACRO/Netflix-Netflix.

91 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 12 April 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert. PG.