Different and Meaningful
“Ethan Mao” represents the latest trend in GLBT film. It is multi-layered and multi-directional. It is a crime drama as well as a look at the struggles of a gay Chinese-American boy. Ethan Mao (Jun Hee Lee) is at odds with his parents. His father is a successful and confident man; his mother is a former actress. He has an older step brother who is a “good boy” and a younger brother who appears to be heading for the gay side. Ethan also has a lover, Remigio (Jerry Hernandez). Ethan, at 18, is a hustler because his parents have thrown him out due to the fact that he is gay. He met Remigio on the street and as they became good friends, they also became lovers. Ethan decides to return to his parent’s home to steal a necklace while the family has gone off to enjoy Thanksgiving. When the family returns suddenly and by surprise, a hostage situation ensues and what looks like began as a nice wholesome movie about a gay kid whose parents will not accept him, becomes a suspenseful drama.
This could easily have become one of the tritest movies ever made but the director, Quentin Lee, kept a tight rein on everything. What we have is a very articulate and engaging film about characters. Ethan just so happened to be both gay and Chinese and it is interesting to see how one can identify and sympathize with him. His friendship with his lover is a beautiful example of dedication and vice versa. I think the beauty of the film is that it is not about being gay but about being human. Ethan and Remigio turn to hustling because their families do not want them and they need to survive. The great truth of the film is seeing the effect that the violence and coldness of parents has on the children and how it manifests itself in ways that are both dangerous and destructive.
It is refreshing to see a film that has been made so honestly. The script is smart and well written and the cast is sublime. There is suspense and romance as well as cultural/ethnic issues of acceptance and understanding. Blending these together in a way that touches the viewer is no easy task and Quentin Lee has accomplished this beautifully. The fact that our gay boy, Ethan, seeks redemption ad has the courage to go after it, makes this movie interesting from the very start.
When Abe, Ethan’s dad, throws him out of the house, Ethan does what he has to do in order to feed and clothes himself. He takes a passive sexual role with older men as a means of income. Quite by chance does he meet Remigio who becomes his friend and offers him a place to live as well as affection. When we realize that the crux of the story is how Ethan’s family in its own tangled mess must reach different levels of understanding while under duress, we see the pressure that Ethan has been feeling and understand why he turned to Remigio for love. We also understand how he can find forgiveness.
“Ethan Mao” is original, powerful and very moving and it is also sweet and tender. It is a new look at an old subject but what hallmarks it is the obvious love with which it was made.