Tigertail on the outlook might seem like an immigration story meant for the Asian audience, that we have been privy to many times in the past. But it is not so. Tigertail is so much more than being a mere immigration saga. It has a universal approach to itself. It is about family, about lost love, about passion, about regret, about choices, and many such emotions that wouldn’t require you to be of a particular descent, to indulge into.
Tigertail has been written and directed by Alan Yang. Though Alan Yang has a Taiwanese lineage, he himself has never been to Taiwan, until recently with his father. The film is an attempt of Alan to understand the life of his father, the choices he made and why. It’s the journey of chasing one’s desire until you realise that some desires are never fulfilled. It’s also about the dilemma and illusions one might have when he sets out to conquer the world. But when he looks back he realises that this was not the world he desired for. Life, then, becomes just a calculation of losses.
Hong Chi-Lee as young Pin-Jui was never satisfied with the kind of life quality he had in Taiwan. He wanted to escape his reality. The favourite recourse of escaping reality for any individual from an under-developed or developing nation was to live the American dream. But Pin-Jui never had the resources to go to the States. Fate gives him an opportunity when the owner of the factory in which he worked with his mother, asked him if he wanted to accompany his daughter to the States.
When you are at such a crucial juncture, a curve that has the might to alter your fate, then often you become numb. You enter into a war of thoughts, a state of delirium to which there is no predefined answer. It is as if you are making your own precedence.
On one side Pin-Jui sees his mother working tirelessly and on the other hand, he sees his paramour, Yuan. He also understands the economic disparity between him and Yuan and how difficult it would be to break the economic barrier and try to think about a future with Yuan. He comes to the conclusion that he has to make certain sacrifices to attain the unachievable. Without telling Yuan he leaves for the United States with his owner’s daughter, Zhenzhen, whom he later marries.
The film moves back and forth in time. We see Tzi Ma playing Pin-Jui, at a much later stage in life, where life seemed to have played all its cards. The repercussions of the actions are in front of us and it doesn’t seem like things turned out as a young Pin-Jui, planned out, it to be. Pin-Jui now seems quiet, lonely and lost into oblivion. He is no longer the spirited and lively youth who moved to the States with a lot of aspirations. Zhenzhen has divorced him and there seems to be a communication gap between him and his daughter, Angela.
Pin-Jui earned a fortune in the once alien land, which is his home now. But there seems to be something that still haunts him. It is as if he is carrying a load, a weight on his shoulders. He has achieved what he thought was the ultimate goal of his life but still there so much dispute and turbulence inside him. Maybe life wasn’t as linear as he perceived it to be.
A Stoic Man
Pin-Jui, much through the course of the film becomes that figure of resilience. He absorbs the hardships to an extent where he forgets what being emotional felt like. He forgets how he used to dance with Yuan, he forgets those songs which he sang with her, he forgets the affection he had for his mother and how he would be ready to move mountains, just to see her happy.
He becomes this bland concoction of what might seem a living being, but the insides of him have stopped living for a while now.
Zhenzhen realises quite early in her life that she doesn’t have much in common to Pin-Jui. She realizes that she seems to have married somebody who is hollow from inside. He has nothing to give in the relationship. But she is told by a friend, ” Eventually your life is what you’ll have in common.“
Tigertail is not just about the journey of Pin-Jui, but the relationship he shared with his daughter, Angela. The relationship shown derives a lot of inspiration and subtleties from the real-life relationship of Alan Yang and his father. He says that when you start seeing beyond the authoritarian demeanour of your parents, you realize that they too have feelings, they too had their own share of failures and were human enough of having their own regrets.
Tigertail is about the evaluation of your actions when you look back in time. The impending question always is that was it all worth it. Were the sacrifices really necessary or it just becomes an inevitable phenomenon when you belong to the first generation of change? Life seems unfair. It seems that you have done all the hard work without the incentive of being able to enjoy the fruits of the same. You start comparing your life with the succeeding generation and a thought prevails that they had everything served on the platter without even knowing the real worth of it. But this is how life is. You can complain or collect the scattered pieces with emotional honesty. When you give up that stoic demeanour and embrace the flood of emotions that once you tried to suppress, you realize that there might be a few reasons still, worth living for.
Tigertail must be watched by everyone irrespective of their parentage or cultural indifference as the film caters to certain universal emotions that we all relate to.
Tigertail is streaming on Netflix.
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