By Jana Monji
While the limited series Tiger King is ruling Netflix, another tale with tiger in the title is premiering on the streaming service this week: Alan Yang’s Tigertail. The film follows a Taiwanese factory worker who leaves his homeland seeking new opportunities.
Christine Ko (The Great Indoors), who stars as the daughter in this father-daughter story, is disappointed that the planned premiere party was canceled. But she says we are living in interesting times, especially with her own family spread around the globe.
“I feel that I’ve had different waves of this COVID-19 situation,” Ko explained in a recent phone interview. “My birth mom and little brother, they were in Taiwan. They went on lockdown very early on. I think it was like January or February because at the time we were talking about them coming to the States for the Tigertail premiere.”
When California and Los Angeles, where Ko is located, went on lockdown, she turned to her birth mother to figure out how to prepare. At the time of the interview, Georgia, where the other half of her family lives, was also starting shelter-in-place measures. “I was able to prepare my Georgia mom who adopted me when I was like three,” Ko said.
In a time of social distancing, Ko says social media photos of food and dogs make her happy. Meanwhile, she and her extended family have kept busy, passing the time by cooking “a ton of food” and sending pictures of the dishes to each other. Her birth mother even offered some tips, saying in one instance that Ko had added too much flour on her pan-fried dumplings. Ko chuckled at this because that’s a mother’s love, isn’t it?
When the lockdown lifts in Los Angeles, Ko said, “I can’t wait to sit at a table with other people beside me, not even talking to them. Just to be there in a room will be so nice.” She looks forward to heading out to Spoon by H in West Hollywood for their waffles or Pine and Crane for their Taiwanese food.
These are simple hopes for the future, considering recent disappointments.
“I have to be human and honest,” Ko admitted. “Of course I was so excited for this premiere, mainly to celebrate all the people who worked on the movie.”
She said she was was originally attracted to Tigertail because it’s so rare to see a Taiwanese American as the lead of a film, which in this case allows audience to witness two people’s perspectives at the same time. Tigertail would have been riding the wave of The Farewell and the Oscar-winning Parasite, which Ko describes as “such a big win for the Asian community as a whole.”
For her, Tigertail was a chance “to shine a light on a different story and really carry that torch.” Yet as badly as she wished to have a premiere to celebrate the moment, she says she fully understands that it was the right call to cancel.
Coming from what she calls “a very different home environment where I knew of my birth parents and always had a relationship with my birth mom,” Ko feels that she really connected with her role in Tigertail as Angela, the 30-something daughter who finds her relationship with her father Grover (Tzi Ma) strained.
She said she made the father-daughter relationship in the movie “a meld between my Georgia dad and my birth dad.” While she was always “very close” with her adopted father, Ko didn’t have a relationship with her birth father until she was 22. She said she didn’t really know him, and while she’s grateful that she was able to develop a relationship that “answered a lot of questions,” it was still difficult to make up for that long absence. Still, Ko felt there was a strong connection because they both enjoy performing – her birth dad was a singer she watched on television when she was young.
Unfortunately, neither of her fathers got the chance see Tigertail.
“Both of my fathers are not here any more,” Ko said. “They were two very different individuals. I’m thankful that I tried to build a relationship with both of them.”
The character of Angela is strong and capable in her professional life but not that way with her father. Despite the disconnect they show on screen, Ko said working with actor Tzi Ma wasn’t hard at all.
“He’s someone who makes you feel really comfortable on the set,” Ko said, adding that Ma was also very open as a partner, helping her step up her game and be more vulnerable. Meanwhile, she found writer and director Alan Yang (Parks and Recreation, Master of None) to have a specific, clear vision while still being open to everyone’s opinions.
Ko feels that Tigertail shows that it’s okay if you don’t have the perfect relationship with your family, but also that it’s never too late to try working to improve it.
“You may not get exactly what you’re looking for, but you open that door,” she said, adding that while she does think parents “should reach out, offer advice and help,” they should not judge their children for whatever choices they’ve made.
Ultimately, Ko hopes that the film will make viewers “decide to get in touch with people they haven’t heard from in a very long time.”
Tigertail is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
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