Tigertail (4 stars)


Alan Yang shows us his serious side in this personal and stirring tale of coming to America

Alan Yang, best known as writer and producer on comedy shows such as Parks and Recreation and Master of None, turns his hand to more serious subject matter, in a film inspired by the stories his Taiwanese father told him about growing up poor under martial law. This tender family portrait is an impressive dramatic debut, that chronicles Yang's roots by mapping a journey from Taiwan to the USA.

Tzi Ma stars as Pin-Jui / Grover who, as a young man in Taiwan, gave up true love in favour of a transactional marriage to his boss's daughter, Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li and later Fiona Fu), that allows him to follow his American dream and financially support his beloved mother (Kuei-Mei Yang). The film switches between time periods, returning us to the 1950s and 1960s where a young Pin-Jui (a fantastic Hong-Chi Lee) embarks on a steamy love affair with Yuan (Yo-Hsing Fang and, in the present day, Twin Peaks star Joan Chen). It also shines a light on the cracks of a failing marriage in the 1970s and brings us bang up to date, where the focus is on a strained father-daughter relationship; Christine Ko plays Pin-Jui's adult daughter Angela, who is frustrated at his inability to communicate.

All the narrative shifts are handled with visual distinction. Saturated colours and neon drench the 60s, which, in its discreet titillation, melancholy and lighting is rendered entrancingly similar in style to Wong Kar-Wai's seminal In the Mood for Love. Pin-Jui's childhood spent in the rice-fields recalls the patiently paced and sumptuous work of Hou Hsiao-Hsien (A City of Sadness, The Assassin). And Yang drains the colour and excitement out of the present as a lonely, divorced man stifles his emotions and refuses to let anyone in.

Tigertail is a deeply sincere and stirring first film, that powerfully evokes painful and thrilling memories with a gorgeous, woozy ambience. Aside from the odd line of distracting exposition, it breathes believable life into its characters, as they learn to overcome regrets and make amends.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 10 Apr.