Adventure Movies

Michelle Yeoh in Animated Adventure

January 27, 20244 Mins Read

Even in animated form, as a cartoon tiger, Henry Golding is handsome. It’s an incarnation that figures prominently in the new film based on Laurence Yep’s best-selling 2003 fantasy novel, the first of a trilogy. Featuring an array of notable Asian and Asian-American talents providing the voiceover work, The Tiger’s Apprentice is a fast-paced adventure that should prove highly engaging for its younger target audience when it premieres on Paramount+.

The title refers to the central character, Chinese-American teenager Tom Lee (an appealing Brandon Soo Hoo), who lives with his grandmother in San Francisco. We immediately know that Tom is not an ordinary teenager from the pre-credits prologue, set 15 years earlier in Hong Kong, when he and his grandmother are suddenly chased by otherworldly creatures. “They found us!” she cries in alarm, before being rescued in the nick of time by similarly strange beings.

The Tiger’s Apprenctice

The Bottom Line

A game cast and brisk pacing work their spell.

Release date: Friday, Feb. 2
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
Director: Raman Hui
Co-directors: Yong Duk Jhun, Paul Watling
Screenwriters: David Magee, Christopher Yost

Rated PG,
1 hour 24 minutes

Cut to the present day, when Tom is mercilessly bullied at school thanks to his grandmother’s proclivity for adorning their house, both inside and out, with elaborate charms and amulets that make it resemble a temple. But Tom is more than capable of defending himself, as demonstrated by his sudden revealing of strange powers that send his tormentor flying to the ceiling.

Upon returning home, Tom discovers a visitor in the form of Mr. Hu (Golding), who seems to go way back with his grandmother. Eons, in fact, since it’s revealed that she’s part of a long line of Guardians of the Phoenix, whose task it is to prevent the magical talisman from falling into evil hands. Evil hands such as those belonging to Loo (Michelle Yeoh), who suddenly shows up to steal the Phoenix, in the process killing Tom’s grandmother. Tom is rescued by Mr. Hu, who miraculously transforms into a tiger to do battle.  

As you might have already figured out from the title, Tom becomes Hu’s apprentice, teaming up with a dozen warriors assuming the form of animals from the Chinese zodiac — including the dragon Mistral (Sandra Oh), Dog (Patrick Gallagher, Big Sky) and Horse (Diana Lee Inosanto) — to take on Loo and her evil minions.

While the convoluted fantasy elements may make some older viewers’ eyes glaze over, the film fortunately features generous doses of welcome irreverent humor, as when the reluctant Tom informs Hu, “I don’t know what you’re thinking with all this apprentice stuff, but I’m not waxing cars.” The interactions among the Zodiac animal characters are frequently amusing, and the musical accompaniment for the climactic sequence makes fun use of, what else, “Eye of the Tiger.”

The powerhouse voice cast is another plus; besides the aforementioned, it includes Lucy Liu, Bowen Yang, comedian Jo Koy and Greta Lee (Past Lives), among others. Director Raman Hui, making his feature debut, keeps the proceedings moving at a suitably brisk pace, with the colorful CGI animation providing one diverting image after another. The Tiger’s Apprentice doesn’t really have the heft for the big screen, for which it was originally intended, but it’s easy to imagine it spawning sequels or perhaps a streaming series. 

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