DEAR EX (誰先愛上他的) (29TH SGIFF)

Genre: Drama
Director: Mag Hsu, Hsu Chih-yen
Cast: Roy Chiu, Hsieh Ying-xuan, Spark Chen, Joseph Huang
RunTime: 1 hr 39 mins
Rating: R21 (Homosexual Theme)

Opening Day: 2 December 2018 (Southeast Asian premiere at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival)

Synopsis: Song (Taiwanese rocker and composer Spark Chen) dies of cancer, leaving in his wake a son, a wife and a male lover—Jay (Roy Chiu), who has been named the sole beneficiary of Song’s life insurance policy. A battle ensues between Song’s enraged and neurotic widow, San-lian (Hsieh Ying-xuan), and the cantankerous Jay over who is more deserving of the money—in other words, which of them was more loved by Song.  Driven away by his overbearing mother, Song’s adolescent son, Cheng-xi, moves in with Jay and ends up as an unwilling mediator between the two warring adults. Together, the trio embark upon the difficult path of grieving: a journey they can only traverse with compassion and respect for each other’s memories of their beloved.

Movie Review:

There is no gratuitous violence in this movie. The characters do not use coarse language. And there are no explicit sex scenes either. Back at home in Taiwan, the film was given a G rating, which means that general audiences could enter the cinema to watch the debut feature of directing collaborators Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih Yen.

However, the film is rated R21 in Singaporewith the consumer advice of Homosexual Theme. The first thing that came to mind – why the huge disparity? A check with the film classification website states according to local guidelines, the comedy drama contains ““stronger and more explicit portrayal and exploration of mature themes”.

Seen through the eyes of a young boy (a nonchalant Joseph Huang), the story is about his overbearing mother (Hsieh Ying Xuan in an unglamorous but entertaining role) who is terribly upset about her late husband’s insurance money going to his gay lover (Roy Chiu channeling his ‘uncle’ qualities).

Caught the gist yet? Yup, this is a tale about dysfunctional relationships. Man marries woman. Man falls in love with another man. Man dies. Woman becomes very, very angry.

The 99 minute film is clearly about acceptance. Instead of presenting it as a sombre and sullen package filled with stifled repression, the filmmakers use bright colours (check out Chiu’s rainbow shirts and his messily interesting apartment), hilarious dialogue (Huang gets the best lines, simply because kids can say the darndest things and still come off as cute) and a believable characters to tell a moving story of human relationships.

With Mag Hsu’s experience in directing plays and managing a theatre company, you understand why this film does feel like a stage production. In fact, a substantial portion of the story takes place in a theatre. Hsu Chih Yen’s experience in directing music videos probably came in handy in giving the film its appealingly snazzy look.

The actors deliver commendable performances. Hsieh, who won Golden Horse Award’s Best Actress prize, is a fine example of a woman you don’t want to mess with. One standout scene sees her character pondering over her marriage with her husband (Taiwanese musician Spark Chen) – it is the kind of acting that juries would vote for. Chiu, whom we remember as a dashing idol, shows cynics he has got what it takes to be an established actor (he missed out the Best Actor accolade at the Golden Horse Awards but managed to snag the prize in the same category at the Taipei Film Awards).

The film is a hit in Taiwan, and rightfully so. The story is a touching one that celebrates love and connection. It has nothing new to tell, but it is always good to remind ourselves that at the end of the day, humans only have each other to count on.

(The crowd pleaser features entertaining performances while telling a universal story of human emotions)

Reviewed by John Li at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival

Read our interview with the filmmakers and cast of the Dear Ex


Movie Stills