The Tiger’s Apprentice (2024)

The Tiger’s Apprentice Review

The Tiger’s Apprentice

At a first glance, the very existence of “The Tiger’s Apprentice” would appear to mark a major step forward for Asian representation in animated cinema considering that the voice cast alone a veritable Who’s Who of celebrated Asian actors that includes Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Bowen Yang and Greta Lee is light years ahead of most such films. Yet based on the finished product, it feels as though after spending so much time and energy assembling this undeniably impressive group of performers, the filmmakers could not be bothered to do anything else to make the movie interesting or worthwhile. The end result is a film that has a couple of decent jokes and some nice visual flourishes but not nearly enough to compensate for the resounding mediocrity of everything else.

At its center is Tom Lee (Brandon Soo Hoo), who has been raised by his grandmother (Kheng Hua Tan) in a rambling San Francisco house so stuffed with tchotchkes and talismans that some locals think she might be a witch. He appears to be an ordinary 15-year-old high school student but when he somehow causes a bully to go flying into the ceiling during a between-classes scuffle, he begins to suspect that something may be amiss. Alas, this act attracts the attention of Loo (Yeoh), an evil creature who wants Grandma’s magical necklace which she has been guarding and which possesses powers that could unleash unimaginable destruction if they were to fall into wrong hands.

Having now acquired said necklace, Tom is saved by Hu (Golding), one of 12 representatives of the symbols of the Chinese Zodiac who can turn into human form and have sworn to protect humanity from beings like Loo who embodies evil itself. Reluctantly taking on role as Tom’s mentor while teaching him how one becomes guardian himself, Hu also introduces him to other team members, including dragon Mistral (Oh) and sly rat thief Sidney (Yang). Many battles between good and evil ensue until fate of world winds up resting in Tom’s hands.

Once you get past the cast list and Asian-specific setting, themes and characters, there is really nothing about “The Tiger’s Apprentice” that is new, inventive or imaginative. I have not read Laurence Yep’s 2003 YA novel upon which this film is based (the first of a trilogy) but a quick look at its plot summary on Wikipedia suggests that whatever may have once been an expressly Chinese mythological story set in contemporary times has been so thoroughly smoothed out here that it just plays like yet another fantasy epic in the vein of Harry Potter and countless imitators where regular kid discovers they have amazing powers that take several volumes to fully explore. Rather than offering younger viewers something fresh or potentially captivating, the makers are content to give them more of what they have already seen countless times before. The result is one of those funny films where you can easily predict every twist well in advance but struggle to remember anything about it afterwards.

Another key flaw is that the film wastes its primary asset an amazing cast. You’d expect that when you have such high-caliber actors, each of them would get their moment to shine; however, due to a rushed narrative combined with a short run-time (barely hitting 80 minutes before the credits roll), most of what they contribute falls by the wayside. Except for Yeoh and Golding who portray two major characters, as well as Yang’s comedic relief role none others are given enough space to leave any mark at all; in fact, if Rabbit (played by Greta Lee) ever had line dialogue I must’ve missed it entirely. It’s strange how everyone keeps complaining about movies being too long nowadays while here’s one that could probably benefit from an extra fifteen or twenty minutes so both storylines and personalities could breathe properly.

“The Tiger’s Apprentice” isn’t necessarily bad as per say some animation looks stunning and few funny moments occur here or there but it represents these frustrating endeavors where everything needed for truly inventive motion picture seems present yet nothing comes out of them eventually. Even though it might be vibrant and colorful enough during unfolding to keep children entertained reasonably well; maybe if many kids watch this flick then perhaps there’ll be second part which would take more effort into exploring rich mythological background along with various figures involved being us also.

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