Ethan Mao

Ladymol's Review

This is quite an engaging film, which builds into something with tension after a slightly shaky start. Ethan is a Chinese American boy living with his father and stepmother. One day, the stepmother (whoíd frighten most fairytale stepmothers) discovers a gay porn magazine under Ethanís bed. She immediately uses it as a weapon between Ethan and his father, and Ethan is ordered out of the house. Making his living as a prostitute, Ethan meets Ramone a young drug dealer who takes him in and looks after him.

On Thanksgiving, knowing his family will be away from home, Ethan decides to go back and pick up some things, mostly notably a diamond necklace which is the only thing he can remember of his much loved mother.

Returning unexpectedly, the family finds Ethan and Ramone in the house, and a hostage situation ensues, as Ethan, out of control and bitter, wants some payback for being kicked out and forced to live on the streets.

There is very little gay content, as gay is not really the issue here. Itís the excuse the father uses to kick Ethan out, but actually as the tale unfolds we can see that this was a family disintegrating for other reasons. And thatís where I had my major problem with this movie. It was a bit something of nothingóthe other reasons didnít really convince me. I liked that Ethan finally got to confront his family, but when he did he really had very little to confront them with other than being kicked out. I wanted something a little darker, which was hinted at but not developed.

Certainly worth a look, but it didnít really make a mark or stir my emotions particularly.


Cerisaye's Review

Ethan Mao is kicked out of the house when his father discovers that heís gay.† Aged 18 heís then forced to survive on the streets selling his body as a hustler.† Luckily his cute Asian American self is highly desired by older men.† Ethan is taken under the wing of street smart Emigio who gives him a place to stay and a substitute for the family that rejected him.

†When his younger brother tells Ethan the family will be out of the house for Thanksgiving, he resolves to go home and collect his belongings, particularly the diamond necklace that belonged to his mother who died when Ethan was only 8.† But when the boys enter the house theyíre caught red-handed when Ethanís dad comes back to fetch something and events spin out of control.† The result is a nail-biting hostage situation that tests the limits of love and loyalty while they wait for the bank to open next day to retrieve the precious necklace from a safety deposit box.† Simmering conflicts and family tensions are confronted in an atmosphere tense with suppressed emotions and hidden longings.†

A mixture of thriller, coming of age story and sweet romance, Ethan Mao charms despite limitations of plot and not always effective acting ability.† It works because the rather over-the-top and frankly contrived hostage drama sub-plot is a cover for legitimate concerns to do with what for many gay kids like Ethan is only too real, i.e. disowned by parents and left to fend for themselves while too young to be capable of supporting themselves, and struggling with their own inner homophobia in a heterocentric society.† With adolescents increasingly acknowledging their sexuality at a younger age than previous generations this is a serious problem.† Hard enough to be a teenager without additional pressures.

†Ethanís story is also deepened by the fact heís a second generation Chinese American growing up under the domination of a traditional father who expects blind obedience to his will.† Ethanís father just canít connect with a son who believes heís only concern is for money and his younger second wife.† Because what really marks Ethan more than anything is the loss of his mother.† His step-mother is a caricature out of a fairytale- Ethan as Cindarella!- selfish, materialistc and favouring her own spoilt child.† Ethanís deep insecurity and resistence to love is down to the absence of real affection in his life, so when Emigio offers it to him he doesnít recognise it.† Indeed Ethan actually tells Emigio heís never going to love anyone, and he means it.†

The film explores different kinds of love: the selfish controlling way Ethanís father treats him while demanding respect and obedience; the obsessive regard his step-mother has for her spoilt son which makes Ethan resentful and jealous;† and the pure unconditional love offered to Ethan by his friend Emigio, who puts Ethanís happiness first even if it means giving him up.

†Iíd forgive this film almost anything for the wonderful moment at the end when Ethan & Emigio share a long, passionate kiss that seals their love in a way thatís particularly meaningful to the plot if youíve been paying attention.† As love stories go this one is beautiful, even if we sort of have to accept its existence as fact (Emigioís feelings seem to spring from nowhere though maybe itís just love at first sight) to begin with anyway.† Emigio sees in Ethan a chance of redemption, to save his friend ending up like him.† Emigio has his own problems to do with family and he doesnít want Ethan throwing his away, not if he can make amends.†

†The film has an odd mix of reality and dream sequences so youíre never quite sure whatís happening.† Tension builds very effectively in the claustrophobic atmosphere of Ethanís home where his family is held hostage, with undercurrents of violence threatening to erupt any minute.† Sometimes you just have to seize the chance to make your destiny rather than adhere to other peopleís expectations.† That Ethan somehow finds love amidst confronation makes the story very satisfying, and the ending is just perfect!

Jun Hee Lee as Ethan and Jerry Hernandez as Emigio have great chemistry together, and Raymond Ma as Ethan's father also does a fine job.† I think Quentin Lee is a young filmmaker who is going places. Definitely worth watching, this is a film that makes you think about its characters after the end, which has to be a good thing.