This story contains spoilers for the film Tigertail.
Four years ago, the writer-director Alan Yang took the immigrant child’s rite of passage: He went “home.” He’d been to Taiwan before, but that was when he was 7 years old. After an entire adult life away, Yang felt more than ready to head back with his father to their family’s hometown of Huwei—a rural community southwest of Taipei whose name, in English, translates to “Tigertail.”
As the pair journeyed across Taiwan by high-speed rail, Yang peppered his father with questions about growing up. After winning an Emmy for co-writing the Master of None episode, “Parents,”—a sweet, funny vignette about the sacrifices immigrants make for their children—Yang had begun working on a loosely autobiographical script he titled “Family Movie,” and he needed help. His father obliged: When they arrived in Huwei, he took Yang to pay respects to late relatives at the mausoleum and showed him the sugar factory where he and his mother, Yang’s grandmother, once worked. He also tried to take Yang to visit their old family home, but after all those decades away, the town had transformed the plot of land into a gas station.
It was there, as Yang gazed at fuel pumps and tried to picture the house in which his dad grew up, that his film took shape. The story wouldn’t just be a “love letter” to his family but also an opportunity to unearth the interiority of a Taiwanese immigrant’s life. He wanted to show the longing that his dad couldn’t put into words. The gas station “was such an evocative representation of how you can’t go home again, literally,” Yang told me over Zoom in early April. “And not only that, but no matter how much you miss your past and how much emotion you have and how much you wish you can go back in time, you never can.”