When Song Zhengyuan dies, he leaves everything he has to the most important person in his life: his gay lover Jay (Roy Chiu). To his wife Liu Sanlian (Ying-Shiuan Hsieh) this comes as a shock, as it leaves nothing for her and their teenage son Chengxi (Joseph Huang). She’s livid, and jumps at the chance to find the man, or ‘manstress’, her husband loved to demand answers over how, and why, this could have happened. Chengxi can’t even mourn the loss of his father before he becomes caught in a feud between the two, so rather than stay with his overbearing mother he chooses to live with Jay – much to the latter’s surprise.
Presented from the teen’s point of view, Dear Ex is a powerful examination of family, grief, and what it means to be in love. After its conflict-heavy beginning, the film evolves into something entirely different as it presents the unexpected relationship that develops between its lead trio. With no father in his life, Chengxi seeks out another male influence and who better to fill that role than Jay? He’s drawn to him, curious to know how he and his father met and the life that they led together. It is through his lens that we witness the subtle and sweet romance that Jay and Song shared over nearly two decades, despite the discrimination that they could have faced.
Sanlian is the embodiment of this issue; depicted as close-minded and bitter, she often uses cruel words to vent her frustrations out on her husband’s lover, and even outs him to his mother. Considering her life up to that point, it seems that Sanlian’s problem with Jay is not necessarily that he is gay, but that the love he shared with her husband means that her marriage was a sham. Having tried, and failed to lead a ‘normal’ life with her, Song abandoned her to live out his last days with the man he always loved, and it takes her some time to accept this. As the story goes on, and she gets to know Jay more, she slowly come to terms with what happened, and how important Jay was to the man they both loved.
Given Taiwan’s landmark decision to legalise same-sex marriage in May last year, the film couldn’t be released at a more perfect moment as it shows that love is love, no matter what. Co-directed by TV director Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-yen, the pair have done an excellent job of bringing this story to life. It hits home the importance of acceptance and the challenges of dealing with grief as a collective, while Hsu Chih-yen’s stylish camerawork and Mag Hsu’s powerful script packs quite the punch. Dear Ex challenges the viewer with its emotional impact, and it’s even more powerful thanks to its talented lead cast, who each provide their own unique style of acting to the table. Combined, these factors ensure that Dear Ex is a touching LGBT production.
Written by Roxy Simons
All photos © Dear Studio Production