Just like with almost every other 2024 film, I didn’t know much about The Tiger’s Apprentice. In fact, besides the fact that it had a tiger, I really didn’t know anything else about it. Therefore, I was surprised to see a cast boasting the likes of Henry Golding (The Gentlemen), Lucy Liu (Shazam! Fury of the Gods), Sandra Oh (Quiz Lady), and Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once), as well as talented screenwriters like David Magee (The Little Mermaid) and Christopher Yost (Thor: Ragnarok). Director Raman Hui (Monster Hunt) was the ‘wildcard’ I was unfamiliar with, so overall, I held no expectations whatsoever.
The Tiger’s Apprentice follows the well-covered, formulaic path of a young protagonist discovering a family secret and bearing it against some sort of antagonist. In this particular case, Tom (Brandon Soo Hoo), a Chinese American boy living in San Francisco, is the latest in a long line of guardians who protect an ancient phoenix egg with the help of superpowered animal beings. At the surface, it feels like just another variation of a well-known narrative trope…
And, unfortunately, the story fails to rise above the ordinary, adhering strictly to the predictable, formulaic trajectory typical of such movies. Even thematically, The Tiger’s Apprentice remains shallow, a casualty of the breakneck pacing that constitutes the film’s major problem. The narrative rushes forward at an alarming pace, barely allowing the audience to familiarize themselves with the characters before pushing them into emotionally powerful events – at least on paper. This relentless rhythm compromises the ability to establish genuine connections between the viewers and the characters, resulting in an overall lack of investment in the rest of the story.
The Tiger’s Apprentice‘s hurried progression extends to its character arcs, plot points, and even action set pieces. Characters move from one point to another with dizzying speed, leaving the audience struggling to comprehend the logic behind these almost instantaneous transitions. The weight of real loss and the gravity of serious stakes are undermined by the superficial treatment of these elements. Individual arcs also suffer from a lack of depth, appearing either incomplete or too basic. There are hardly any moments to breathe, and when the viewers finally do get to them, their heart rate is still elevated.
While the animation manages to salvage some aspects of the movie, particularly during action sequences, it fails to compensate for the overall lackluster storytelling. The fighting scenes, at times impressive, contribute to the overall decent entertainment value. Notably, the designs and powers of the animals stand out, showcasing a level of creativity not found in the screenplay. However, the human characters lack the same visual appeal, seeming somewhat dull in comparison. Tom shines in a couple of standout moments during the third act, but these instances are insufficient. One technical element that stands out amidst the mediocrity is Steve Jablonsky’s (Transformers: The Last Knight) score. The background music features some pretty cool tracks that might actually make it to my yearly Spotify list.
The Tiger’s Apprentice certainly holds the potential for a genuinely engaging, memorable animated flick. The narrative formulas, though prevalent, could have been transcended with better execution and a slightly longer runtime, which would have led to the possibility of characters and themes being more fleshed out. Sadly, the storytelling’s dangerously fast pacing hampers the realization of said potential, resulting in a film that, while not devoid of merits, ultimately fades into the vast sea of forgettable features.