The Tiger’s Apprentice, a collaborative endeavor by Paramount Animation and Jane Startz Productions, attempts to visually conjure the world depicted in the 2003 novel by Laurence Yep. Although some elements have been wonderfully transformed on screen under the proficient direction of Raman Hui, Paul Watling, and Yong Duk Jhun, other parts of the story leave the viewer feeling a tad underwhelmed.
The plot revolves around Tom Lee (voiced by Brandon Soo Hoo), a typical teen who has a twist of fate thrust upon him when he discovers his lineage belongs to an age-old order of mystical defenders, the Guardians. Mr. Hu (voiced by Henry Golding), a mythical tiger and member of the Zodiac animal warriors, takes him under his wing, quite literally, and trains him to defend humanity from an impending evil.
There’s a great appeal to the magical mythology that the narrative weaves, and fans of the fantasy genre might appreciate the diversity of the creatures it boasts – particularly, the mystical Chinese zodiac animal warriors. The film effectively intertwines ancient folklore with modern settings, striking a balance that provides a distinctive backdrop to the narrative.
The animation is striking with visually pleasing palettes, ensuring the universe it establishes is enchanting. It borrows elements from the book to create an immersive and intricate world where every frame offers something visually engaging.
The star-studded cast, particularly Henry Golding, offers great vocal performances. Golding as Mr. Hu impressively transitions from authoritative mentor to whimsical jokester with ease. Soo Hoo offers an empathetic performance as Tom Lee, effectively conveying the shock and curiosity that any teenager might feel when introduced to this fantastic reality.
Where the film falls short, however, is its screenplay. Penned by David Magee and Christopher Yost, it somehow fails to grip. The dialogues often seem superficial and lack the depth the characters could have exhibited. The emotional scenes, rather than pulling at the heartstrings, appear forced. The attempt to meld humor into the narrative also seems rather lukewarm and misses the mark on more than one occasion.
The character of Loo (Michelle Yeoh), the menacing sorceress, is somewhat overshadowed by the character’s limited depth and under-explored backstory. As a villain, her motivations feel underwritten, diminishing the level of tension necessary for the narrative to soar.
Furthermore, Lucy Liu as Nu Kua/Cynthia, although does justice to her character, she could have been given more space for character development. Sandra Oh as Mistral creates a memorable character despite limited screen time.
The action scenes are animated impressively, offering thrill and engagement but are held back by predictability. This is largely attributable to the formulaic storyline.
The Tiger’s Apprentice creates an intriguing world with mysterious creatures and engaging individuals, but its storyline and characters fall short. For fans of Yep’s novel, the movie might be a treat for the senses with its visual execution. However, it leaves the audience wanting for a stronger narrative grip, engaging dialogues, and character depth.
The Tiger's Apprentice Review: A Fascinating Universe Held Back
- Acting - 7.5/107.5/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 7.5/107.5/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 6/106/10
- Setting/Theme - 5/105/10
- Watchability - 6/106/10
- Rewatchability - 4/104/10