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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “Tigertail,” Wallows, and more

Apr. 13, 2020
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Watch: Tigertail (2020, dir. Alan Yang)

A couple months after Academy Award-winning director Bong Joon-ho told all of Hollywood to learn to read subtitles, Master of None co-creator Alan Yang opens his directorial debut with the note, “Mandarin subtitles in white; Taiwanese subtitles in brackets,” with English being spoken only in one of the film’s three sections.

At the center of Tigertail is Pin-Jui, who is loosely based on Yang’s father and is played by three different actors across generations. Shot beautifully in 16mm, we watch Pin-Jui’s life from being an orphan living with his grandparents, to a young adult who is in love but forced to make decisions bigger than himself. These vignettes are stitched intricately with his present, in which he’s struggling to accept the life he has failed to live and to reconnect with his estranged daughter. 

While admittedly less nuanced than other art on the immigrant experience, the film, somber and heavy with loneliness, perfectly nails the feeling of longing for home and the person you are when you’re in it. Director Yang told Thrillist he wanted the section of the movie in which a young Pin-Jui is in a whirlwind romance with his first love “to be a little bit heightened and beautiful and dreamlike and cinematic, representing how he sees his past… In some ways, those memories seem more alive than his actual real life.”

And that’s what makes Tigertail such an essential watch: it has thoughtfully crafted a depiction of the disconnect immigrants feel not only to their home but to their older, truer self. The weight of loss is ubiquitous once Pin-Jui reaches America, and it never leaves until the movie’s beautiful last shot, in which his daughter Angela comes with him to his hometown in Taiwan. 

Yang went on this same journey with his own father; not necessarily as research for the film, although it did serve as a catalyst for the kind of story he wanted to tell. Tigertail is not a biopic, but it is based on a true story—on all the true stories of immigrants who left everything they have ever known. Yang enlisted his own father to do the voiceovers that bookend the film.

While the film in itself is already a gift to a zeitgeist still devoid of much-needed, well-made Asian representation, it has become a beacon of light amidst the pandemic. The racialization of COVID-19 has made it even more frightening to be Asian in America, making the disconnect to home much more noticeable. Yang is aware of this, and is glad his film can accompany Asian-Americans at a time when they need solidarity the most. “When I tweeted the trailer out last week, the response was overwhelming. It felt like people wanted to see Asian faces. They wanted to see a movie about connecting with others, that dimensionalized Asian people,” he told GQ

Tigertail is streaming on Netflix.

Listen: “OK” by Wallows

There’s a distinct sense of satisfaction when an artist knows their audience and doesn’t take that knowledge for granted. I don’t know how I’ve managed to live for so long without Wallows, a band that with every single release panders so perfectly to me and what I’ve managed to fashion as my personality. Their music fits seamlessly into every teen movie soundtrack (the younger sector of Film Twitter loves them) and their music videos look like teen movies themselves—their latest release “OK” particularly so.

The three-piece is sitting in a van not dissimilar from ones you’d see in Dazed and Confused or Wayne’s World, dressed in quirky, colorful outfits reminiscent of early 2000s Nickelodeon movies. Frontman Dylan Minnette of Thirteen Reason Why fame charms with his cotton-candy blue hair—which is my totally professional way of saying he’s so cute with it. 

The lively visuals are more in line with the song’s melody than its lyrics: this indie-pop anthem with an infectious hook is actually about experiencing insecurity in a relationship. “[It’s about] having a hard time accepting something that feels ‘too good to be true,’ but overall learning to embrace it and accept the love you’re receiving and focusing on returning it,” the band explains. Of course, at a time like now, any song that tells you “Can we get up and try to feel okay again?” is more than welcome.

Watch the music video for “OK” here.Watch: She’s Allergic to Cats (2016, dir. Michael Reich)

It’s only fitting that a film as surreal as She’s Allergic to Cats has a mysterious history: after its festival premiere in 2016, it was completely off the radar, only resurfacing on VOD four years later. Filmed digitally and run back through multiple analog formats, this is a story of love and loss told through a self-proclaimed fever dream. 

After doing music videos for artists like My Chemical Romance and documenting LA’s underground punk scene, director Reich tries his hand at narrative feature with this semi-autobiographical dramedy centered on Michael Pinkney, a dog-groomer, maker of self-proclaimed “weird video art,” and owner of a rat-infested LA apartment. From watching the lead pitch an all-cat version of Carrie to the bittersweet last act, this film subverts all expectations. Its self-deprecating humor provides a balance to what it says about human connection—a theme, of course, explored through a dream girl. It’s Under the Silver Lake sans the air of self-congratulatory (and Andrew Garfield), and definitely a top-notch example of sweet, sweet escapism. 

She’s Allergic to Cats is available on Amazon and iTunes.