The Taiwanese melodrama comedy, Dear Ex, directed by Mag Hsu and Chih-Yen Hsu had a huge success in 2018. It won Best Feature, Actor, Actress and Press Award at Taipei Film Festival 2018, and Best Leading Actress, Original Film Song and Film Editing at Golden Horse Awards 2018. Dear Ex’s release has been less than 12 months but has achieved something that will take others many years to get there. In 2019, Dear Ex sold its right to Netflix internationally, at least 190 countries including Australia, will be able to stream this award-winning film from the 1st of February 2019.
The story starts from a single parent family in which the mother San Lian (plays by Ying Hsuan, Hsieh) has a difficult time to connect with her son. Later she finds out the son went to see Ah Jie (plays by Roy Chiu) which was her ex-husband’s boyfriend/partner. That’s all we can tell about the narrative to avoid spoiler alerts. You will thank me after watching the film.
Dear Ex presents the realism of how difficult it is to accept yourself as a gay man in Taiwan because the pressure from traditional family ideology and judgements from the society. Unfortunately, it is still like that today in Taiwan given the same-sex marriage referendum vote failed in 2018 (63% voted against same-sex marriage, only 30% voted for yes).
Dear Ex speaks a voice for the gay Asian man that we don’t see in any of the LGBTIQ cinemas. The film doesn’t just focus on the gay character but the people around him and how people’s lives were affected because of him. Not because he is gay, but because he is part of the love affair which can happen to anyone in this world.
The film moves away from the stereotype of LGBTIQ cinemas such as two same-sex characters falling in love, having a party, breakup etc. Instead, the film normalizes the gay character as an entity in the society, just like any other human being. “A society that’s diverse, abundant, and complex,” said Tien Hsiang Wen.
The melodrama mother San Lian grabs audiences’ attention thoroughly; with her character you feel the irritation and hopelessness. Ah Jie plays by Roy Chiu comes in as a contrast to her character but deep down he is in so much pain for losing the love of his life, so as her (spoiler alert!).
Dear Ex has some unique angles that take you out of the realism from the film, which actually not a bad thing. It feels like the directors is giving you a break from all the intense life drama, but later they throw you right back where you were. An emotional roller coaster ride for sure.
This film’s original script was written by Shi-Yuan Lu but then later on re-edited by director Mag Hsu. “The characters' relationship between mother and son in the film, is actually based on my personal experience with my kid” said screenwriter Shih-Yuan Lu. It certainly was a tough journey, but it takes a team to create something so dazzling and compelling.
“Roy Chiu is a very professional and experiences actor. He used to come in and point out where the camera positions were different compares to when it was practiced” said co-director Mag Hsu. “So, I decided to break him and reject everything he suggested. Because when you focus so much on camera positions and light, you actually forget about your own character in the film.” And that’s how you win Best Actor at Taipei Film Festival.
The film came out just a few weeks before the same-sex marriage referendum votes in Taiwan. Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival CEO Tien Hsiang Wen asked co-director Mag Hsu if she thinks there will be some people against this film because of the LGBTIQ topic. “I don’t think the film tells you to vote one way or another on same-sex marriage. In fact, it creates a space that you put aside of your cogitation and just watch the film, I believe the film will touch you either you are gay or not’ said co-director Mag Hsu.
Interview References: Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival
Written by Benson Wu, Edited by Amit Karmakar