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John Cho and ‘Master of None’ Co-Creator Alan Yang Join Forces for ‘Tigertail’

Cho and Yang are no strangers to empathetic stories, and their collaboration is a recipe for success.
Columbus John Cho
By  · Published on August 24th, 2018

Cho and Yang are no strangers to empathetic stories, and their collaboration is a recipe for success.

John Cho has always been part of a revolution in the film industry. He has professed a love for going against the grain when picking projects, and his varied filmography proves that he’s managed to craft such a career. Not only that, he’s genuinely great at basically any role he’s done.

From playing an iconic stoner in the Harold & Kumar movie series to channeling his badass rendition of Hikaru Sulu in the rebooted Star Trek films, Cho’s most famous roles alone have been polar opposites that promisingly demonstrate his range as an actor. We also know Cho as a hugely important influence in onscreen Asian-Americana, having starred in some of the most prominent films featuring Asian-American casts.

The tenets of Cho’s early career include Quentin Lee and Justin Lin’s Shopping for Fangs, as well as Lin’s well-received sophomore feature, Better Luck Tomorrow. Now, along comes Cho’s latest upcoming project, Tigertail, as a potentially worthy addition to the pool of Asian-American centric stories.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tigertail is a multi-generational drama hailing from Master of None co-creator Alan Yang, who is slated to write and direct the project. This will mark his first time directing a feature-length movie. The film is being set up at Netflix and will co-star Christine Ko (Hawaii Five-0) and Tzi Ma (Arrival).

Tigertail is based on biographical elements from Yang’s own life. The movie tracks the questionable choices of two individuals, who then have to contend with the unfortunate ripple effects that those actions are bound to cause. THR further details that the film will cover a worldwide terrain, tackling themes of “regret, longing, passion, and repression” from 1950s Taiwan to New York City in the present day.

Already, the description of Tigertail leaves an impression that’s as elusive as it is evocative, but multiple factors about the film make it stand out from the get-go. Firstly, it’s always nice to see a surge of representation, and more movies about Asian-American life and identity are always welcome.

Of course, nuance is important here; the fact that Tigertail will only represent a certain demographic within the Asian-American community is a vital distinction to make. These days, between the rise of the Asian-American rom-com (particularly Crazy Rich Asians’ box office and critical successes) and the dominance of vivacious personalities such as Ali Wong and Awkwafina, the East Asian community has increasingly been getting their due on screen.

This concentrated outpouring of inclusion follows more sporadic but still noteworthy projects that have popped up over the last few years. The Walking Dead introduced Steven Yeun to the world, and the actor has since gone on to foster a notable film career after leaving the show. Meanwhile, Constance Wu and Randall Park’s Fresh Off the Boat is still going strong at ABC, having been renewed for a fifth season this past May.

As a result, Tigertail apparently comes at just the right time to capitalize on the “moment” that Hollywood likes to generate every time minority stories become a big hit. But Cho and Yang’s involvement, in particular, ensures that the film isn’t likely to be just a flash in the pan. The very idea of a multi-generational story has the potential of being universal, and odds are that Cho and Yang are able to make that happen.

We’re well-aware of Yang’s talents as a storyteller whose resume stretches across the small screen in comedy gems like Parks and Recreation and The Good Place. However, his work in Master of None seems most significant in the context of Tigertail. Yang and Aziz Ansari’s Netflix original series is uproariously funny while simultaneously sporting a delicate sensibility towards intersectionality.

Yang co-writes most Master of None episodes with Ansari, and there’s thus a strong throughline of uniformity across the show as it is. However, of the two episodes that Yang has directed, he particularly proves a deft hand at crafting stories about the intricate relationships between families and localities.

“Religion,” the third episode of Master of None’s second season, is an excellent portrayal of the modern-day religious experience that’s shared or fractured across different generations of immigrant families. The episode provides an especially perceptive look at how traditionalism intersects with an evolving sense of spirituality that second-generation immigrants must grapple with. The end result is a frank depiction of a young man’s beliefs, but one that also remains sensitive to the differing views and values that his parents uphold.

“New York, I Love You,” episode six of the series, is in contrast about strangers in a city. That doesn’t make the chapter any less compelling or affecting, because it presents, observes, and empathizes with each character – a doorman, a bodega cashier, and a taxi driver – with warmth and respect. The episode does the anthology format proud by being equal parts whimsical and genuine, turning a discerning and loving eye towards people not often given their due on screen (and even otherwise).

Undoubtedly, Yang’s exceptional creative vision will be further augmented by Cho’s dependable cinematic presence. Even in his early career, Cho already lent layers of depth — namely uncommon world-weariness and angst — to his resident bad boy in Better Luck Tomorrow. As he’s carried on in Hollywood since, plenty of his roles have tended to highlight his slight sardonic charm, especially since he’s a comedy mainstay (look no further than Selfie for some quality rom-com laughs).

That said, Cho’s knack for understated drama is gorgeously displayed in Kogonada’s feature debut, Columbus. The film is a wondrous exercise of languid conversation. Seemingly, nothing and everything happens each time Cho and his extraordinary co-star Haley Lu Richardson drop into easy chats that are ostensibly about the gorgeous architecture dotting Columbus, Indiana.

In reality, these characters talk about their hopes and dreams and search for some semblance of peace in one another. Cho and Richardson exude kinetic chemistry in Columbus, and the former’s quiet and considered performance cuts deep in his expressions of grief. It’s a quality that would serve the emotional rollercoaster of Tigertail well, simply due to the fact that it is relatably raw even in its calmness.

Overall, it’s safe to say that the emotional weight and empathy of Tigertail is bound to play to both of Cho and Yang’s creative strengths tremendously. Hence, their collaboration feels particularly auspicious.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)