At its heart, the new Netflix flick, “Tigertail,” is a tribute to writer-director Alan Yang’s father, a sugar factory worker who fled Taiwan for New York City as a young man and learned the hard way that the land of hope and opportunity wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. But Yang, the Emmy-winning co-creator of the streaming comedy series, “Master of None,” insists his wrenching story of love denied and lost isn’t autobiographical. Yet it rings hauntingly true, for it’s the story of not just Yang’s father, but every immigrant who suddenly found themselves a stranger in a strange land.

Like last year’s smash, “The Farewell,” Yang’s simple but stirring tale is all about family and losing touch with your roots. It even stars Tzi Ma, the terrific character actor so affecting as Aquafina’s father in “The Farewell.” Here, he plays a similar patriarch transplanted via his own volition, separated from the mother he holds dear. Where the two films differ is in that instead of an examination of an extended family, “Tigertail” almost entirely focuses on Grover, a Taiwanese James Dean played by a smoldering Hong-Chi Lee as a youth and Tzi as an elder.

Given Hong-Chi’s considerable charisma, it’s little surprise that the film’s best scenes involve him and his sexually charged romance with his seductive girlfriend, Yuan (Yo-Hsing Fang), a childhood sweetheart he’s reconnected with in Huwei, a Taiwanese township whose name literally translates to tiger tail in English. Their affair is electric and dreamy, whether the budding rebels are doing a chew-and-screw at a snobbish restaurant or sharing terrific harmonies on Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”

The problem is Grover adores another woman even more: his widowed mother (Kuei Mei Yang), who spends hours on end working beside him as a slave laborer in the local sugar factory. After a near-tragic accident, Grover throws up his hands and reluctantly accepts a dowry offer from his boss, marrying the rich man’s dull, chronically introverted daughter, Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li), and relocating to New York in search of riches and a home where Grover’s mother can join them.

It’s a transaction as old as Faust and one forcing Grover to put his dreams ahead of his heart. It’s a choice that will haunt him the rest of his life, and forever mar three other lives as well: Zhenzhen (played in later years by Fiona Fu), their daughter, Angela (Christine Ko), and Yuan (the great Joan Chen). How Grover reconciles these three broken hearts provides the backbone for “Tigertail,” but the marrow is in the unrelenting guilt lurking inside himself. This internal struggle provides Azi a golden opportunity to seize upon his considerable acting abilities to create a character that is mean, bitter, but utterly deserving of your empathy. That’s some trick.

What may bother some, besides an intrusive score, is how Yang has structured his film, wildly hopscotching from Grover’s life as a child living with his grandparents in the rice paddies of Taiwan, to his youth in Huwei, his young adulthood in the United States and finally as a rueful old man. I found the time-hopping jumble a little disconcerting at first, but once I got into the rhythms of Yang’s technique I waded smoothly into the flow, especially in the final 20 minutes, which are melancholy, yet cathartic and hopeful.

For a first-time director, the complexity of what Yang has undertaken is really something. And his finesse in creating drama is particularly impressive since Yang has spent his entire career in comedy, be it working at the Harvard Lampoon, writing and producing the cult hit “Parks and Recreation” and conjuring “Master of None,” which like “Tigertail” explores the culture clashes inherent to immigrants and their families.

By the end of “Tigertail,” my grasp of the pain and challenges of up and leaving all that you love behind was tightened considerably. And given our government’s unwarranted assault on immigrants, it couldn’t be timelier. Yet, what strikes you most, is the struggle between Grover and his daughter to break free of their cold, uncommunicative impasse, a relationship already frayed by divorce and Grover’s inability to see Angela as something other than a flesh-and-blood reminder of his choice to forgo love for opportunity. But then Angela is equally close-minded, and watching their resolve melt on a trip back to Grover’s childhood home (an eye-opening journey Yang says he took with his own dad) is beyond rousing. It’s truth personified.

Al Alexander may be reached at alexandercritica@aol.com.

“Tigertail”
Cast includes Tzi Ma, Joan Chen, Christine Ko and Hong-Chi Lee. In English, Chinese and Taiwanese with English subtitles. Now streaming exclusively on Netflix.
(PG for some thematic elements, language, smoking and brief sensuality.)
Grade: B+