Tribeca 2023: Smoking Tigers

Directed by: So Young Shelly Yo
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Taylor Baker


So Young Shelly Yo’s “Smoking Tigers” is a languid presentation in the teenager coming-of-age subgenre. The film is also Yo’s directorial debut, which at a tight 85 minutes doesn’t overstay its welcome. Instead, Yo finds ample opportunities to let scenes linger, and likewise use repetition to build an emotional undercurrent. The film follows Hayoung (Ji-young Yoo) a 16-year-old straddling the desire to experience the world and spread her wings while unknowingly and knowingly foisting some of the more “grown-up” responsibilities upon her parents.

When her mother enrolls her in a test preparation academy she begins to socialize with peers from different backgrounds, exploring romantic interests, and how to be a friend properly. The film does hit many of the larger bullet points one would expect, but the way that it plays those notes resonates with more impact and sincerity than many of its peers. The film’s rigorous specificity elevates it, as does Yo’s direction, with deft handheld camera movements bringing life to an otherwise still scene, and careful framing conveying deep emotional impact without needing to say a word.

“Smoking Tigers” propellant but subdued score enmeshes well, though some acting is clunky, some dialogue forced, and some cathartic moments fumbling, on the whole the film knows exactly what it is and drives us to its resolution without lagging. For a debut effort from both a screenwriter and director, there’s a lot of promise and an encouraging amount of self-confidence in the film’s delivery.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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