MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
In the opening scene of Tigertail (set in 1950s Huwai, Taiwan when the Chinese Nationalist Party were in control) a little boy named Pin-Ju (Hai Yin Tsai) is seen running through the wide-open spaces of a golden rice field and playing with a little girl from the neighborhood. Suddenly he sees his mother in the distance. Overjoyed, he trips and falls; when he gets back up, his mother has disappeared. This vision was a product of the boy’s imagination. An adult narrator tells us that his mother left him for a job in the city and that he grew up living with his grandmother. As the scene continues to play, the boy enters the modest home of his grandmother and is quickly made to hide in a cupboard. He is told to keep very quiet. There are soldiers coming by looking for “dissidents” and the child is unregistered. After the soldiers leave and the boy comes out of hiding, his grandmother catches him crying. She scolds him and says: “Be strong. Don’t ever let anyone see you cry”.
Time passes and the boy is now a young man (Hong-Chi Lee) working in a factory alongside his mother. The work is hard, the pay is low and the machinery is capable of crushing anything that falls into its pathway. Pin-Ju meets up again with his childhood friend and their relationship blossoms from friendship into love. But his boss offers him an opportunity (a devil’s bargain if there ever was one) to improve his future. If Pin-Ju will marry his shy daughter (Kunjue Li), the two of them will be sent to America to begin a new life together. This move will help Pin-Ju to support his mother. He accepts the offer.
As the two newlyweds begin their life in the Bronx – with no job and home to call their own – Pin-Ju enters into a routine of hard work and a loveless marriage. Still, they manage to make things work and have two children – a boy and a girl.
The third act of the film jumps ahead in time to show us a retired and divorced Pin-Ju (Tzi Ma), returning from his mother’s funeral in Taiwan and dealing with his grown daughter (Christine Ko) and her breakup with her fiancée. Sadly, he has taken his grandmother’s advice to heart and is reticent to show his feelings. But they’re working on it.
Writer-director Andrew Yang has spent many years writing and producing televised comedy shows including Master of None, Parks and Rec, and The Good Place. For his first feature film he wanted to share the world of his father and three generations of Taiwanese people, each with their own language. While not strictly autobiographical, the film appreciates the compromises that had to be negotiated with immigration to America. In many ways it is a love letter to his parents and the sacrifices that were made.
Tigertail is a lovely film and covers a lot of territory in 90 minutes. A fine companion film that tells another cross-cultural story (set in Changchun) is last year’s The Farewell (previously reviewed and available to stream on Amazon Prime). Both films are rated PG and well-worth your time. And time is what you have. Watch and learn.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A memory play that deals compassionately with cross-cultural immigration.
Two pitchforks: Brief swearing – in subtitles; Brief scene of implied sexual activity.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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