This is one of several movie suggestions written by students in the Chinese-Language Cinemas class of Winter 2019 (CHIN 3050/FILM 3350). For this “Playlist Project,” students looked for a film of interest not seen in class, watched and researched it, and wrote up their recommendation. More viewing suggestions will be posted each day leading up to the beginning of the new term.
Review written by Haley Dawe
Dear Ex (誰先愛上他的) , an award winning 2018 Taiwanese film directed by Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-Yen, is an unorthodox story of love and grief. This dark comedy depicts three people tangled in their shared love for one man, Zhengyuan, and the wreck of emotion and money that his death brings. Zhengyuan’s son, Chen-xi, finds himself in the middle of a family feud after his father dies of cancer, leaving his insurance money behind. Sanlian, Zhengyuan’s ex-wife and Chen-xi’s mother, becomes irate when she discovers that the insurance money wasn’t left to her son. Instead it was left to Zhengyuan’s gay lover, Jay, who he lived his final days with. Sanlian does everything in her means to claim the money in order to cover her son’s schooling costs, but finds herself pushing Chen-xi further away in the process. Because of this tension, Chen-xi becomes increasingly closer to Jay, who he had painted as the bad guy that stole his father from him. As their relationship grows he finds himself asking “He is the bad guy, right?”. Ultimately this film evolves into a story not just of grief and love, but of forgiveness and reconciliation as the characters open up emotionally.
The cinematography in this film is beautiful. It’s filled with vivid colours and neon lights that complement the melodrama of the characters. The film uniquely integrates animations of what are meant to be Chen-xi’s drawings into the story. This serves as symbolism and insight into how Chen-xi feels about certain relationships and actions. For example, during a scene where Jay is comforting the sick Zhengyuan in the bathroom who is losing hair due to chemo treatments, we see the two embrace. Chen-xi’s animated drawing of a door closing over the bathroom shot portray how he feels uncomfortable about his dad’s sexuality and the love he and Jay shared. Combined with these animations, the bright, energetic colours of the film, similar to that of a soap opera or rom-com, help to keep the mood of the movie lively and allow for a more comfortable incorporation of comedy into a story filled with such heavy themes such as death and familial separation.
Taiwan has has a rich and long history with LGBTQ movies. Not only is it home to directors like Ang Lee, who is well known for his film Brokeback Mountain, or Tso-Chi Chang who directed Rebels of the Neon God (青少年哪吒), Taiwan also hosts a renowned LGBTQ film festival annually called The Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (Spencer; Wang, Chen & Hashim 325). In Taiwan, It has become the norm for there to be at least two LGBTQ themed movies available to watch in cinemas annually, which could be considered progressive in comparison to the laws surrounding such films in nearby asian countries (Wang, Chen & Hashim).
Wang Changsong, Chen Yiming, and Rohani Hashim. “Youth Cinema: Young Taiwanese Lesbian on Screen.” Journal of Sociological Research, vol. 3, no. 2, 29 Sept. 2012, p. 325-332.
Spencer, David. “7 Reasons Why Taiwan Is the Best LGBT Destina…” Taiwan News, Taiwan News, 29 July 2018, www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3492498.
Strait, Eddie. “Netflix’s ‘Dear Ex’ Is a Darkly Funny Must-Watch about the Grieving Process.” The Daily Dot, 5 Feb. 2019, www.dailydot.com/upstream/netflix-dear-ex-review/.
Tsai, Caroline. “DEAR EX Review: A Candid Story Of An Unexpected Love Triangle.” Birth.Movies.Death., 15 Feb. 2019, birthmoviesdeath.com/2019/02/15/dear-ex-review-a-candid-story-of-an-unexpected-love-triangle.
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