“The Tiger’s Apprentice” (2024) is a fantastical, fast-paced animated movie that sits comfortably in its seat on the streaming platform Paramount+. Filled with every familiar aspect of The Superhero Journey, the movie isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is: a fun adaptation of award-winning author Laurence Yep’s 2003 fantasy novel that kids and parents can enjoy together this Lunar New Year.
The story follows quippy Chinese-American teenager Tom Lee, an excellent candidate for a rising superhero. He’s a heartfelt boy who gives off strong second-gen vibes and lives with his quirky, traditional (in the fun way) grandmother in a beautifully decked out house that is often confused for a temple. Apparently people keep leaving them oranges, but hey, free oranges!
Tom has no other family to speak of, which unfortunately means that we see his grandmother’s death coming from miles away, but not before she and a seemingly random daddy-type stranger drop a huge bomb on him. All of the stories Tom’s grandmother told him when he was little are real. The Zodiac is a circle of elite warriors who each represent an animal of the Chinese zodiac, and A-ma stands at the center of them all as the Guardian of the Phoenix. Oh, and daddy-type stranger is one of said Zodiac warriors; his name is Hu, and he, y’know, can shapeshift into a handsome, muscular tiger.
Things move very quickly after that. Tom gets the full run-down on the Zodiac and begins training with Hu, as he is now truly the Tiger’s apprentice. The film hits all the required beats: the full team lineup (featuring one flawless dragon with a drool-worthy hairstyle when in human form), training montages showcasing various levels of skill paired with a killer soundtrack, identity-related challenges, friction between mentor and apprentice mostly stemming from adolescent angst (who knew parenting a grieving teen was this hard, right Hu?)—all while playing an elaborate game of keep-away from the overwhelmingly evil Loo, voiced by a dark, slinky, and still elegant Michelle Yeoh. (See the full star-studded voice cast at the bottom of the page.)
In the end, after the Zodiac has spent a considerable amount of time teaching Tom how to fight and the importance of fighting, what ends up defeating Loo once and for all is something that Tom’s grandmother told him in the first ten minutes of the movie.
“A-Tom, we don’t use these,” she says, indicating his fists. Then she points to his heart and head. “We use this and this. We don’t have to fight. Besides, you’re not too good at it.”
There is nothing surprising or new about this movie, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that the moral of this story should still ring true today. Life shouldn’t be about who’s the best at fighting, and maybe, we can solve more problems by unclenching our fists and choosing to stop.
“The Tiger’s Apprentice” (2024) is now streaming on Paramount+.
Directors: Raman Hui, Yong Duk Jhun, Paul Watling
Screenwriters: David Magee, Christopher Yost
Cast: Henry Golding, Brandon Soo Hoo, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Michele Yeoh, Bowen Yang, Leah Lewis, Kheng Hua Tan, Sherry Cola, Deborah S. Craig, Jo Koy, Greta Lee, Diana Lee Inosanto, Patrick Gallagher, Poppy Liu
Cover photo: Courtesy of Paramount