Mag Hsu & Chih-yen Hsu’s Dear Ex tangles up three troubled, dysfunctional characters into a nuanced joint centering on secrets, love and burst of emotions. Everything begins when a man died leaving his widow, Sanlian (Hsieh Ying-hsuan) and his teenage boy, Chengxi (Joseph Huang) with nothing but grief, confusion and, at certain level, grudge. In an elusive twist, the dying man writes his son out of the insurance policy in favor of Jay (Roy Chiu), another man for whom he’s leaving the family. All the inherited money can only go straight to the man’s secret lover if Sanlian signs off. Yet, it was always more than just money.
In the heat of the story, Chengxi would squawk about his mother, accusing her for loving money so much. The teenage boy might actually get the point in the plainest sight; yet, Dear Ex isn’t plain. It isn’t a straightforward family feud drama even when it desperately looks so. It’s driven forward with so much sentimentality that it almost plunges into full-fledged melodrama in most occasions; lucky, it never does.
The movie feels like an observatory lens, in which Chengxi functions as a filter. Handwritten doodle might suddenly appear on the screen, adorning the story’s enticing visual presentation (warm tones, cramped set designs and camera work often framing the characters against the exquisite details in the background—creating a forlorn yet nuanced background to the complex emotional struggles). Chengxi, who decides to move in with Jay, becomes the eyes—the point of contemplation between each character struggles.
As the conflicts heated up, the story begins to move back and forth in time. In each frame of time, we learn about each character profoundly. It’s a painful process to watch as Mag Hsu and Chih-yen Hsu begins to play out with audiences’ sympathy and sensitivity—from the moment when Jay’s affair begins; then when Sanlian delves into the borderline between anger, confusion or simply disgust as she’s coping with her husband’s concealed sexuality; when Chengxi begins to get involved in the core of the story; and when the man who tangles the three of them fell into the mortal illness.
The further it goes, the more this melancholy feels beautiful. It’s after all a story about love; how love enables people and how love confiscates happiness out of people. As I mentioned previously, at first it looks as if it’s all about money, but as we’ve become used to the feud, we learn that money is another thing. It’s about sympathy and loss; about how the latter enables people to feel the former. Dear Ex is sad and beautiful at the same time.
Dear Ex (2019)
Drama Directed by: Mag Hsu & Chih-yen Hsu Written by: Mag Hsu & Shih-yuan Lu Starred by: Roy Chiu, Joseph Huang, Hsieh Ying-hsuan Runtime: 100 mins