Tigertail review – contemplative look at human connection and memory

Alan Yang’s Tigertail stars Tzi Ma from The Farewell. Like The Farewell, this is a cross-cultural drama that places great emphasis on connectivity, distance and memory. It might not be pulled off with the same flair as Lulu Wang’s modern classic, but Tigertail still stands tall on its own merits. Yang’s film is a moving lesson on how connecting meaningfully to your past is necessary to connecting with people in the present, despite how hard it can sometimes be to look back.

© Netflix 2020

Based on the life of Yang’s father, Pin-Jui (Ma) has been struggling to maintain a loving family relationship with his daughter for years. What a variety of flashbacks from Pin-Jui’s past life tells us that this is because he has lived his entire life mourning the fact that he left his true love behind in Taiwan, instead coming to the United States as part of an arranged marriage. The film witnesses considerable change, swapping from bright yellow rural fields during Pin-Jui’s childhood to the at-times relentless grey of urban life. 

When it comes to being retrospective, Yang does a good job of presenting Pin-Jui’s as blurred recollections of his unresolved past. The focus and resolution in the shots of his earlier years are less sharp than when we are sent back into the present day, his current life displayed with bitter clarity. The old Pin-Jui is self-centred, doesn’t speak much and proves arrogant. It is only through acknowledging his past self that he is able to change and open up to his estranged daughter, Angela (a magnetic Christine Ko). It’s a tension that is frustratingly never fully resolved by the time the credits roll.

© Netflix 2020

The story captures Pin-Jui’s growing distance from others in a multitude of ways – speaking Mandarin to his mother who only speaks Taiwanese, for example. His carefree days were brought to an abrupt end by the need for money and an arranged marriage, forcing him to leave the love of his life back in Taiwan. It has haunted him since, a curse that would get a bigger reaction from the viewer if the relationship between Pin-Jui and his lover Yuan (Yo-Hsing Fang) felt a little less generic. It is a slow film, one that forces you to contemplate the ways that your personal history impacts on those around you. 

Tigertail is a deeply personal story that can prove very moving. Yang’s exploration of the past just about remembers to include the present day, and the end result is a movie that pays homage to how memories shape your present.

Tigertail is available to stream on Netflix now.

James Hanton

James is a contributor to Outtake, Starburst Magazine and The Wee Review. He is also the former Editor-in-Chief of The Student, the oldest student newspaper in the UK. A recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh, James is looking for paid writing gigs so he doesn't fall into the endless abyss of graduate unemployment. He can be contacted at: jhantonwriter@gmail.com