The unconventional comedic drama Dear Ex has become a major success story for Taiwanese filmmakers Mag Hsu and Chih-yen Hsu. Nominated in eight categories at the Golden Horse awards, and winning three, this queer-interest tale deals with the fallout from the death of family man Zhengyuan (Spark Chen), who chooses to leave his life insurance money to his secret boyfriend, Jay (Roy Chiu), rather than his 13-year-old son, Cengxi (Joseph Huang). “Do you know that adults are the stupidest creatures on Earth?” Cengxi muses to his therapist at the beginning of Dear Ex, thoroughly disapproving of the hysterical way in which his overprotective mother, Sanlian (Ying-Xuan Hsieh), is dealing with reality. Through striking use of animated graphics, the film illustrates the thoughts and feelings of the child protagonist, who sketches the principal figures in his life as archetypes, sardonically dubbing his mother “the mistress” and Jay “the man lover.” By representing these characters as battling factions in a war over his late father’s fortune, Cengxi’s imagination provides an amusing commentary on an otherwise bitter struggle between two people essentially failing to cope with loss.
Unlike many domestic dramas, Dear Ex seems thoroughly unconcerned with foregrounding guilt or blame, and instead revels in disarray.
Dear Ex gradually becomes a nuanced, if somewhat wearisome, study of upheaval in the face of bereavement, broaching difficult discussions such as how to reconcile ones feelings of anger when the target of those feelings is no longer around to be confronted. Although there’s an underlying message that we are all constantly learning about ourselves, the script admirably avoids giving its characters redemptive arcs, emphatically refusing to dull any of the prickly personalities. Unlike many domestic dramas, Dear Ex seems thoroughly unconcerned with foregrounding guilt or blame, and instead revels in disarray – both in terms of its narrative details and the structure of its plot. The film’s non-linearity, while occasionally disorienting, finally pays off in the final act, when two flashback sequences reveal how both “mistress” and “man lover” each met their ex-beau. In allowing us to see these once-happy people when they were at their most magnetically unguarded and romantically hopeful, the film finally provides more emotionally resonance for what is largely a fraught showcase of the varying stages one goes through while grieving. It’s this kind of thoughtfulness that makes Dear Ex actually disconcerting in its complexity — the film creates an idiosyncratic picture of parenthood, and of patriarchy, that can test the patience from time to time, but which resolves in a rewarding and unique way.
You can currently stream Mag Hsu & Chih-yen Hsu’s Dear Ex on Netflix.