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Paper Tiger takes on a variety of important and difficult topics. The immigrant experience, school shootings, and mental health are all touched on. These are heady issues which make for a tough viewing experience. This is not because the film is bad, but because they are things that most do not want to hear about. The ideas may be straight out of today’s headlines, but most would prefer to ignore them.
Taking on all of these hot button issues can lead to some difficulties. Writer-director Paul Kowalski tries to tie everything together. For the most part, it works well. Though all are unique issues that barely seem compatible in one film, Paper Tiger is able to tell its seamless story. There is still the sense that the film loses focus at times. It is a personal film, so when it does turn up the volume, it is very noticeable.
One of the reasons the film works so well is the strong chemistry between Lydia Look who plays Lily and Alan Trong who is cast as her son, Edward. The two have a great dynamic and as Paper Tiger progresses and more issues are uncovered, the acting rises to meet the challenges. In particular, Look does an amazing job. She is tasked to convey a number of emotions.
Paper Tiger is prone to becoming melodramatic, however. Based on what the film is trying to cover, it makes sense. Still, there is a heavy suspension of disbelief required. There are a number of individual issues that would work in one movie. By putting so many in one, it gives those watching a sense of “now what”? It is all plausible, but in the context of a narrative it does seem like much.
Nonetheless, this never takes away from the story the film is trying to tell. There may be a lot going on in the lives of the characters, but focusing too much on them is a mistake. Paper Tiger is about its collective themes and not the singular issues. It may be a hard watch, but it is an essential one. Ultimately, it is a twisted take on the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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