Alan Yang’s new film is a tale of the path not taken. It spans the life of Grover from his hopeful childhood in Taiwan to his embittered old age in America. In adolescence he is blissfully in love with Yuan; in middle age, he is in a resentful marriage with Zhenzhen; in old age, he is alone and unable to connect with his daughter Angela. What happened?
Grover made the wrong choice. As a child growing up under the repressive and fearsome KMT government and as a young man toiling with his single mother in a rickety factory, Grover dreams of escape to America. He dances tenderly with Yuan to adored pop music from the radio and they wistfully sing Otis Redding’s Sittin’ on The Dock Of The Bay by a moonlit lagoon. His boss at the factory (for reasons unclear) offers Grover his daughter Zhenzhen’s hand in marriage and the paid cost of travel to America. They pack their bags and leave, without a word to the spurned Yuan.
Here the problems begin, both for Grover and the audience. Over the years Grover’s regret and resentment build and seep into his family relations. He grows colder and harder toward his daughter Angela and more stifling of Zhenzhen’s own dreams. It seems we are meant to sympathise with Grover as the heart of the film punished by outside forces, yet it is impossible to do so. He appears unapologetic about his appalling treatment of Yuan and the film fails to make a case for his behaviour.
Tigertail is oddly detached for a film which ought to be close to home. There is no connection between people, places, memories. The film is shot in a cold, bland style with every room looking conspicuously unlived in. America is sirens and graffiti; Taiwan is rice-fields and a skyline. It is postcard evocation of places which are meant to have had a profound effect. There are some unforgivably lazy clichés including the ever-faithful “going to work” montage and a half-hearted scene with the couple running in slow motion through a restaurant kitchen, which is somehow too short. The dialogue is page-turning in delivery and bland in content. There isn’t a spark of life.
This is a curious film that one enters with interest and sympathy, but finding none from the director, leaves baffled. Instead of pulling at the heartstrings, it strains your patience. There is an interesting and affecting story in here somewhere about home, dislocation and regret – it’s just a shame Alan Yang couldn’t find it.
Tigertail is released digitally on demand on 10th April 2020.
Watch the trailer for Tigertail here: