Tiger Stripes (2023)

Tiger Stripes is a compelling coming-of-age body horror, the first feature by Amanda Nell Eu.

Mean Girl

by Alexa Dalby

Tiger Stripes

CAUTION: Here be spoilers


Tiger Stripes is a fresh, unusual, Malaysian film about growing up in a traditional society. It is compelling and fascinating.

Zaffan, 12, (wonderful Zafreen Zairizal) is a born leader of her gang of three veiled schoolgirls: docile Mariam (Piqa) and maliciously religious Farah (Deena Ezral). Zaffan is an adventurous natural rebel, for example sharing the bra (a symbol of constriction) under her all-covering pink hijab with her friends and without it, making a TikTok video dancing in the school toilets.

That is, until she is the first in her year at school to start  her periods. Everything changes. It means servitude. Her strident mother tells her “You are dirty now”. Yet again, women are the harshest critics and upholders of traditional restrictions.

She is treated differently by her conservative teachers and ostracised by her schoolmates. Her friends, especially Farah, turn on her and treat her as if they are Mean Girls. Her high spirits are crushed by the culture and she becomes obsessive about washing.

But Zaffan’s magical realist secret is that now she can turn into a fierce tiger, racing up trees in the lush rainforests that surround her village, catching and bloodily eating frogs and squirrels. A supernatural being appears to her, as in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Her parents try exorcism.

The cinematography by Gaudi Award-nominated Jimmy Gimferrer is excellent, with some breathtaking shots and framing of Malaysia’s rainforest and the Titiwangsa range. The background score from Indonesian duo Gabber Modus Operandi is also superb.

A tiger is a symbol of strength and beauty. The villagers’ instinct is to kill it. Zaffan learns that to be free she must embrace the body she feared, emerging as a proud, strong woman. Tiger stripes are the name given to the stretch marks that appear if growth is too fast.

First-time director/screenwriter, Malaysian Amanda Nell Eu  says“…The film forces us to confront the truth that it is our own obsession with conformity that makes growing up feel like a nightmare.”

Tiger Stripes premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was the first Malaysian film and the first Malaysian film directed by a woman to compete and it won the Grand Prix of the Semaine de la Critique. It screened at the BFI London Film Festival. Tiger Stripes was Malaysia’s entry for the Oscars – but the cut cleared by censors for release in Malaysia was disowned by the director, who said they had ‘removed the essence’ of her film. The original version is released on 17 May 2024 in the UK.

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