Movie Review: ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’

Film

Henry Golding as Hu and Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in 'The Tiger’s Apprentice,' streaming on Paramount+, 2024.

(L to R) Henry Golding as Hu and Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice,’ streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Paramount+.

Launching on Paramount+ February 2nd, ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ represents a solid dose of forward momentum for the portrayal of Chinese mythology on screen for more general audiences.

It’s a shame, though, that the film –– which we’d recommend for its entertaining voice cast more than anything in the script itself –– is an entertaining enough romp for younger audiences but seems unlikely to come across as anything other than second tier when truly boundary-pushing animation exists.

Does ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ Earn its Stripes?

Henry Golding as Hu and Sandra Oh as Mistral in 'The Tiger’s Apprentice,' streaming on Paramount+, 2024.

(L to R) Henry Golding as Hu and Sandra Oh as Mistral in ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice,’ streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Paramount+.

In development for a long time, and handed off between different filmmakers, ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ has been on one of those journeys where you have to wonder if something happened to it along the way. It was, at one point, being considered as a theatrical release, but is now arriving direct to streaming.

There is less of a negative aura about such shifts these days, in a time when there are truly superb streaming shows and movies, but it’s tough to discount the idea that the finished product here just doesn’t scream “theatrical release”. The animation, while certainly competent, can be a little jerky with its human characters in particular (one scene, a vision for the main character, is much more aesthetically pleasing) and the storyline, as we’ll dig into, is a reheated offering of something we’ve seen many times before.

‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’: Script and Direction

Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in 'The Tiger’s Apprentice,' streaming on Paramount+, 2024.

Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice,’ streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Paramount+.

Perhaps the biggest issue with ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is in its basic structure. Though some stories are trotted out time and again because they’ve proven to work, here you can really feel that the authentic ethnic detailing layered over the exceedingly basic skeleton doesn’t quite cover the seen-it-before aspect at its core.

Adapted from the young adult novel by Laurence Yep by David Magee (an Oscar nominee for his work on ‘Life of Pi’) and Christopher Yost (a veteran of Marvel movies and who you suspect provided much of the quippiness on display here), the script has its moments, but struggles to overcome the notion that you’re watching the 534th take on material that the likes of ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Percy Jackson’ and any number of other, better examples have tackled.

The young target audience, of course, likely won’t mind too much, enjoying the colorful, jokey characters and the rising stakes. But anyone who has seen a movie of this sort will soon find themselves making a mental checklist of what to expect –– the wise mentor (in this case, a grandmother who loses her life to the main villain), the grouchy new guide, the wide-eyed kid who had no idea he possessed magic powers, the goofy sidekick, the noble sidekick, the baddie with an all-purpose idea to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth and rule the darkness that follows, etc., etc.

Directors Raman Hui, Paul Watling and Yong Duk Jhun do manage to give the movie a grounding in Chinese zodiac beliefs and an authentic feeling of being set in San Francisco (though sometimes falling into bland, generic traps such as having main character Tom attend “San Francisco High School”). As mentioned, the animation style is more serviceable than truly impressive and while not everything can be at the ‘Spider-Verse’ level, these days you do wish more movies would try (it’s a reason we enjoyed ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’).

‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’: Performances

Sherry Cola as Naomi, Sandra Oh as Mistral, Bowen Yang as Sidney, Henry Golding as Hu and Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in 'The Tiger’s Apprentice,' streaming on Paramount+, 2024.

(L to R) Sherry Cola as Naomi, Sandra Oh as Mistral, Bowen Yang as Sidney, Henry Golding as Hu and Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice,’ streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Paramount+.

If there’s a real saving grace here, it’s the appealing, funny and emotional performances of the voice cast. Though it seems every film (and TV show; witness ‘The Brothers Sun’) with Chinese characters is contractually obliged to include Academy Award winner Michelle Yeoh, she does at least give the underwritten villain role some gravitas.

As Tom, the young man who discovers he has a magical legacy, Brendan Soo Hoo is an appealing personality who sparks well off the rest of the cast. Henry Golding, meanwhile, is somewhat saddled with the standard grouchy-yet-heroic character of Hu, the Tiger who takes Tom under his wing –– er, paw? –– when the lad’s grandmother gives her life to protect him. In terms of character design, he’s like a kid-friendly Wolverine, even down to the muttonchops when in human form.

Elsewhere, the basic scripting is helped by a great ensemble that includes the likes of Sandra Oh, Sherry Cola and Bowen Yang, who bring the lines to life and work well against both Golding and Hoo.

‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’: Final Thoughts

Henry Golding as Hu, Sandra Oh as Mistral, Sherry Cola as Naomi and Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in The 'Tiger’s Apprentice,' streaming on Paramount+, 2024.

(L to R) Henry Golding as Hu, Sandra Oh as Mistral, Sherry Cola as Naomi and Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom in The ‘Tiger’s Apprentice,’ streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Paramount+.

Definitely one for the younger crowd, and unlikely to inspire much faith from older audiences, ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is a mildly diverting animated adventure whose welcome diversity can’t disguise the well-used tropes and narrative at its center.

A fun cast certainly helps, but we’re not sure we see this one launching a franchise any time soon.

‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ receives 6.5 out of 10 stars.

“Unlock the power within.”

Based on the popular children’s book series of the same name by Laurence Yep, THE TIGER’S APPRENTICE follows Chinese-American teenager Tom Lee (Soo Hoo), whose… Read the Plot

What’s the story of ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’?

Based on the popular children’s book series of the same name by Laurence Yep, the movie follows Chinese-American teenager Tom Lee (Brandon Soo Hoo), whose life changes forever when he discovers he is part of a long lineage of magical protectors known as the Guardians.

With guidance from a mythical tiger named Hu (Henry Golding), Tom trains to take on Loo (Michelle Yeoh), a force that is as powerful as a Guardian but with evil intentions to use magic to destroy humanity. To have a fighting chance against Loo, Tom must reunite all twelve Zodiac animal warriors and master his own newly discovered powers.

Who else is in ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’?

The voice cast for ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ also includes Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Bowen Yang, Leah Lewis, Kheng Hua Tan , Sherry Cola, Deborah S. Craig, Jo Koy, Greta Lee, Diana Lee Inosanto, Patrick Gallagher and Poppy Liu.

Diana Lee Inosanto as Horse, Poppy Liu as Snake, Greta Lee as Rabbit, Jo Koy as Rooster, Henry Golding as Hu, Patrick Gallagher as Dog, Deborah S. Craig as Pig, Sherry Cola as Naomi and Sandra Oh as Mistral in 'The Tiger’s Apprentice,' streaming on Paramount+, 2024.

(L to R) Diana Lee Inosanto as Horse, Poppy Liu as Snake, Greta Lee as Rabbit, Jo Koy as Rooster, Henry Golding as Hu, Patrick Gallagher as Dog, Deborah S. Craig as Pig, Sherry Cola as Naomi and Sandra Oh as Mistral in ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice,’ streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Paramount+.

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