When first-time Taiwanese directors Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-yen embarked on the journey to make Dear Ex, their only wish was to have it screened theatrically. Little did they expect their work to become a hit at home and travel to international film festivals.

Mag Hsu, who is a veteran television writer, said: “We just wanted audiences to be moved by a good story. The word of mouth for the film has been very good, and we still wonder whether this is all a dream?”

The film was nominated in eight categories at the 55th Golden Horse Awards, winning three: Best Actress, Best Editing and Best Original Song.

The two filmmakers were in town for the movie’s Southeast Asian premiere at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival. The entourage also included cast members Hsieh Ying-hsuan, Spark Chen and Joseph Huang.   

The comedy drama takes a look at how three people’s lives are impacted when a gay man (Chen) dies. One is his rebellious son (Huang), one is his overbearing wife (Hsieh), while one is his lover (Roy Chiu).

Hsieh, who looks nothing like the frumpy woman she portrays in the film, beat Sun Li (Shadow), Zhao Tao (Ash is the Purest White), Zhou Xun (Last Letter) and Meihuizi Zeng (Three Husbands) and took home the Best Actress award.

The veteran stage actress explained what drew her to this role of an spiteful woman who is also a loving mother and wife: “I think it is very interesting that Asian females are always striking the balance between being a conventional woman and being forward-looking. There is a lot of versatility because of our ever-changing roles in the society.”

In the film, her husband is played by Chen, the lead vocalist of Taiwanese rock band Quarterback. Portraying a gay man who leaves behind a son, wife and his male lover, the 48-year-old feels that acting is very different from making music. In one scene, Hsieh hits him after finding out about his sexual orientation. Although viewers see her beating him three to four times on screen, the actual filming involved 30 to 40 hits.

Chen laughed: “The movie poster only shows my shoulder, and my band mates hope that I will appear in more films.”

Huang, who is the youngest cast member, finds that he is very much like the character he plays – an adolescent who is cool and speaks very little. His friends have been complimenting his performance which got him a Best Newcomer nomination. The 15-year-old joked: “I hope they are not saying nice things just to entertain me.”

Hsu Chih-yen is thankful for the bond forged between the cast and crew. The 33-year-old, who is known for directing music videos in Taiwan hip-hop artists, said: “From making the film to the promotional tours, we are like a famiow.”

His co-director Mag Hsu is glad that the film connects with audiences: “There was a period when Taiwanese films did not enjoy box office success. I am happy that together with other productions like More Than Blue and The Devil Fish, we can revitalise the industry.”

She added: “At the end of the day, we just want to tell a good story.”  

By John Li

Read our review of Dear Ex