The APAHM Project Day 6: Tigertail
Updated: May 11, 2020
Director: Alan Yang
Where to watch: Netflix
Why it made the list:
In his directorial debut, writer/director Alan Yang spins a fictitious version of his own parents’ immigration story. The result is a beautifully shot, well performed story that is a familiar to our own immigrant tales.
I was very excited to see this film when it was released back in April. It did not disappoint and far exceeded my expectations. I began reading articles and interviews as I often do after watching a movie and was surprised the reviews were only so-so. Many reviews you read will complain about the accents in this film (I don’t speak Mandarin or Taiwanese, so I wouldn’t know) and while accurate representation is important, I’m afraid we just aren’t there yet. The original casting call for the film asked for Mandarin and Taiwanese speaking people only, and that no previous experience in acting was required. Hopefully we will get to the day where Korean roles are played by Korean actors and so forth, but for now, I think we need to remember that our movement is new, it‘s in its early stages still, and once we make our point that people want to see movies starring Asian people do I think we can begin demanding the specifics.
The film follows Grover, a young man who lives with his mother in Taiwan. They both work in a factory and one day his mother gets a minor injury from a machine. Grover vows that he will make sure his mother never has to work at the factory again and that he will find a way for him and her to immigrate to America. Knowing he can’t afford it on his own, he agrees to his boss’s former proposal and marries his daughter, therefore leaving his true love, Yuan, behind in Taiwan. The film follows Grover and his wife to New York where they struggle and work, making a family, and eventually achieve the American Dream. Years later, we find Grover is divorced and has an estranged relationship with his daughter and that his mother has recently passed away. Grover reconnects with Yuan over social media and they meet up in person. Grover tells Yuan about his daughter and his inability to connect with her and Yuan suggests that he open up to his daughter about his life. Grover takes her advice and he and his daughter end up traveling to Taiwan together to tell her his story.
While that paragraph sums up the plot, it leaves out the parts that resonates with the immigrant story. I am a second generation Asian American, my mother having immigrated from Hong Kong at the age of 9. She came to America with her younger brother and her mother. Prior to that, my grandfather and uncle immigrated and sent back money to Hong Kong in order for the rest of the family to come over. My grandfather was an electrician in Hong Kong but in America, he ran a grocery store. With that grocery store, he managed to put all four of his kids through college, buy them cars, and pay for weddings. My mother and her siblings worked in the store growing up. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that my family didn’t get the American Dream as soon as they immigrated. They had no idea what kind of life and opportunities awaited them. They worked hard to become a service to their community, studied hard to pass their citizenship test, and studied diligently to graduate from college and be successful all while facing struggles of discrimination and trying to fit in. They worked hard to achieve the “American Dream,” which was so coveted because they wanted a better life. A life in the land of the free and the home of the brave. My grandparents and their relatives made a lot of sacrifices for their families, all so that their future generations could have their best lives.
However, our generation, and the generations after us, cannot forget where we came from and what our families sacrificed. This is why it is so important to pass down stories, just as Grover did with his daughter. We cannot be entirely selfish with our own lives without stopping to think about the hardships our parents and grandparents had to go through. Like Yang says in his show “Master of None”: “We do nothing to thank them. Shouldn’t we do something?” “Yeah. Like, a gift or something?” We can’t take their sacrifices for granted.
Aside from this, this film stars Tzi Ma. That’s right, stars, as in a leading role. I have seen so many movies with Tzi Ma, especially recently (“The Farewell” and the trailers for the upcoming “Mulan”) but not in a lead role. Tzi plays the present day Grover who is no longer the father who gives the advice, but the one asking for it. He gives a great performance in “Tigertail” as does his younger counter-part Lee Hong-Chi. In fact, all the acting was really well-done.
Lastly, I didn’t want to forget to mention the look of this film. I loved the use of traditional film for the the flashback sequences. It added an element of nostalgia and grit, something Grover definitely had in his youth with his ambition to move to America and provide for his family.
Does it deserve to stay on the list:
Despite the mixed reviews, I really enjoyed this film. It was a more modern immigrant story, unlike “The Joy Luck Club” whose older traditions made it hard to resonate with. I think Yang did a great job for his feature film debut and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. ”Tigertail” definitely opens up the question of what your own immigrant story is. The reason why Grover’s daughter had a hard time understanding her father was because she didn’t fully understand everything he went through for his family, she didn’t understand his immigrant story. It was only when she went to Taiwan to learn about it did she begin to reconnect with her father, having a newfound empathy. I highly encourage you to ask you parents, grandparents, etc. during this stay at home time about your family’s story.