Paramount+’s new animated film, The Tiger’s Apprentice, is here, and its celebration of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) culture is one of its strongest features.
The story is about a young boy named Tom who unexpectedly becomes the Guardian destined to protect an ancient Phoenix from those who would wish harm upon the world. During his journey, he must team up with the Zodiac animals to help defeat the evil Ms. Loo, voiced by Michelle Yeoh.
The Tiger’s Apprentice is based on a trilogy of books from author Laurence Yep that was first released in 2003.
The Tiger's Apprentice's Stellar AAPI Representation
In an Exclusive interview with The Direct’s Russ Milheim, stars Brandon Soo Hoo and Leah Lewis talked about their new animated movie and its importance regarding AAPI representation.
When asked what about the best part of the film, Hoo noted how "one of [his] favorite parts" of the project is "how accurately AAPI culture is represented:"
"Well, 'Tiger's', I think one of my favorite parts of it is how accurately AAPI culture is represented in the story. I think representation is super important. I think 'Tiger's Apprentice' does a really good job at weaving the authentic cultural elements into the story. And also, I think, being an Asian American myself, being Chinese American, I really love that there's such a cool balance and dynamic between the Asian and the western side of Tom."
"I personally related to growing up as a fourth-generation Chinese American," Hoo continued, something he thinks "anyone [with a similar story] watching… can relate to:"
"While he is very much Chinese. He's also very much an American student and an American kid. And that's something that I personally related to growing up as a fourth-generation Chinese American. That was very much my story growing up. Was having to balance me being American and me being Chinese at the same time. So I think anyone watching that or anyone that has a similar story can relate to that."
Lewis jumped in to add, "It’s such a positive story," one that also has plenty of "heritage pride:"
"And just to add to that, too, it's such a positive story. I think what's really cool about it is the culture and the heritage pride in it also mixed with being multicultural too. It's not something that's like so in your face that that's exactly just what the film is about. It's also a story about this young Asian American boy who, like, learns to be proud of his culture and heritage and also learns to be proud of himself."
"I could have only wished to have a story like this when I was younger," she admitted:
"And like that, I think interweaving those kinds of stories with, you know, AAPI representation. It's like, I could have only wished to have a story like this when I was younger to growing up, and something that, you know, I don't know—I just have such a good message as well, compounded with all representation on top of it."
As for what was the most unique part of the experience for them as actors, Lewis admitted she was "really quite fearful at the beginning of it" due to it being one of her first big voiceover roles (assumingly having recorded prior to Elemental):
"Honestly, this was unique itself because this was my first, I think, like, big voiceover role to begin with. So I was really, really quite fearful at the beginning of it, being like, okay, this is what we're doing. I am a vocally trained, you know, singer, but I was like, okay, like I've never done acting in this kind of medium before. So I think the whole experience from top to bottom was super unique."
She also explained how she "learned so much" from her move from television to animation, including further understandings about "imagination, trust, and… being able to sing into the present moment:"
"And, like, just moving from television into animation, I learned so much about imagination, trust, and also just being able to sink into the present moment. You know, you take up so much space when you're in the booth, and everything is so calm compared to when you're on a television or movie set. And things are quite hectic moving around. And it really just is you in the booth… it was really rare that we ever got to, like, be in the booth together. And especially after the pandemic, things kind of changed up a lot."
Lewis went on to explain how rare it has become to record with other actors in the sound booth:
"So that was also a really cool experience that I have yet to mimic because I haven't had anyone in the booth since other than when me and Brandon did it, like what, two and a half or maybe two years ago now. And I don't even know that they used that footage because we were quite comfortable with each other, and in the movie, they don't really start that way as comfortable as we were, just like hanging out like chummy and having fun in the boat. So even thing even things like that, you know, end up changing the dynamic too."
As for what made the experience on The Tiger’s Apprentice so unique for Brandon Soon Hoo, he joked that he was pleasantly surprised when, one day at lunch, he got far more sushi than he was used to:
"I actually got to do a couple of the scenes in person with Henry [Golding] and with Leah [Lewis]… But one of the days that I got to read with Henry, we were getting catered, and the food that they sent on set was [Sushi]… and Henry had to leave. And he's like, ‘You know what, like, I'm not going to eat this. Do you want this?’ And I was like, ‘Yo, like, I never get full off of [Sushi]. I'll totally take your lunch.’ And my first time meeting Henry, he gave me half of his order of sushi. So that's never happened to me before. I don't know if that answers your question."
Celebrating AAPI Representation
While The Tiger’s Apprentice is a strong representation of AAPI, there is at least one other big animated film that focuses on the same cultural area: Pixar’s Turning Red.
The 2022 movie followed Meilin Lee, a young Chinese Canadian girl as she grew up in high school—with one big catch: she turns into a giant red panda when experiencing intense emotions.
While it may not be Pixar’s critically acclaimed film, its relevance to AAPI is undeniable.
For those looking to submerge themselves into that same culture more, some other big projects to check out include Everything Everywhere All at Once, Minari, Okja, and more.
While the reception of Tiger’s Apprentice may not bode well for a continuation (it’s currently sitting at a 50% critic approval rating), the movie is based on a trilogy of books—so more films could always happen.
Tiger's Apprentice is now streaming on Paramount+.