Hong Kong born writer director Quentin Lee's ("Shopping for Fangs", "Drift") new film "Ethan Mao" is a love story between two gay teenagers and a gloomy family drama about a one of the boys, Ethan, and his normal-looking Chinese-American suburban family Ethan (Jun Hee Lee) is kicked out of the house because his father (Raymond Ma) discovers he is gay. He turns to hustling on the street and meets a friend, Remigio (Jerry Hernandez) who eventually becomes the most important person in his life. Ethan and Remigio sneak into Ethan's family home when no one is there and the family unexpectedly returns home. Ethan forces the family to stay in the house for the day and a drama unfolds.
Fueled by grief about his mother's death and long-term resentment and anger about how he was treated, Ethan lashes out bitterly at his father. Then he hurls accusations at his step-mother. Eventually alliances and conflicts are illuminated among family members, and it becomes clear that each family member has his own struggles – and is doing the best he can. Nothing is black or white, and we can empathize with each character's point of view.
Throughout the family confrontation Remigio shows that, even though he has made some bad decisions, he is tenaciously loyal to Ethan. Ethan is struck by Remigio's devotion, and their relationship deepens.
Quentin Lee weaves a mosaic of relationships within this Chinese-American family that is still dealing with the grief of their lost mother, the news that Ethan is gay, and now Ethan's rage. Lee has captured a realistic snapshot of a family in crisis with "Ethan Mao", and shows how grief and trauma keep surfacing. His characters are multifaceted and realistic. Jun Hee Lee as Ethan and Jerry Hernandez as Remigio work well opposite each other because of their understated style and their palpable compatibility. Raymond Ma embodies the patriarchal role of the stern father, and Julie Nickson-Soul plays the self-absorbed step-mother to perfection. With "Ethan Mao" Quentin Lee presents a finely honed grasp of family conflicts as well as a portrait of a complex and sweet first- gay love story.
In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 4/5/05
Writer/director: Quentin Lee (2004)