A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dear Ex, a Taiwanese film in Mandarin with English subtitles, is a mashup of emotions surrounding the revelation to a 14-year-old boy that his deceased father was gay and that he left his money to his gay lover. Two men kiss. Adults smoke cigarettes and get drunk. Loan sharks beat up a man unable to pay back his loan. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "d--k," "fag," and "bastard." A teen threatens to jump off a balcony. A man is covered with blood after the death of a loved one. The issue of a gay man marrying in order to seem "normal" is central to the movie.
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What's the story?
DEAR EX begins when a wife and mother (Ying-Chuan Hsieh) discovers that Sung (Spark Chen), the gay husband who left her for another man, has left his estate to his lover rather than for the care of their 14-year-old son. We see her in a state of constant hysteria and anger, taking it out on the son, Chengxi (Joseph Huang), who understandably finds her intolerable, and on Chieh (Roy Chiu), the gay lover. The boy is desperate to escape his shrewish mother. Although the mom has pegged Chieh as the family enemy, young Chengxi parks on the guy's doorstep until he allows the boy to move in. This causes the mother to invade Chieh's life as well, as she appears with food and caretaking tips on how to manage Chengxi's schedule, schoolwork, health, eating habits, all the while yelling, screaming, and moaning about how put upon she is. Flashbacks eventually show how Chieh and Sung met, and how Chieh borrowed heavily from loan sharks to pay for Sung's liver transplant. As Sung grew increasingly ill, Chieh lovingly cared for his dying lover. When those facts are revealed, Sung's son and ex-wife embrace and admire Chieh, culminating with the mom offering a gesture of peace, forgiveness, and appreciation.
Is it any good?
This Taiwanese drama is so-so; not terrible but not wonderful, either. On the plus side, Dear Ex is about love and loss, being true to oneself self, and finding the courage to be authentic in the world, and those goals are accomplished well. But good intentions are weighed down by a chaotic style that doesn't organically flow from the plot. A messy and nearly incomprehensible play-within-a-play detracts from the rest of the goings on. Drawings, however cute, come out of nowhere to black out a scene, or adorn a character with wings or a sword. The reason for these flights of fancy are never clear, nor do they especially enhance our understanding of the action.
The gay man who falls deeply in love with the older married man is extremely sympathetic. The fact that he cannot tell his adoring mother that he's gay because he doesn't want to disappoint her is both touching and human, and that is why teens with secrets may find this movie heartening and compelling
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what social pressures might make a man try to hide his homosexuality. What do you think Chengxi's father meant when he said he wanted to be "normal" in Dear Ex?
Why do you think a gay person might be afraid to tell a loving parent he or she is gay?
Has anyone ever come out to you? Were they afraid of what you would think? How did you react?
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