Ethan Mao (2004) Poster


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A terrific film
YNOTswim13 March 2005
I was a little skeptical about this film before the screening at "The 23rd San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival," because there are so many films have been marketed with buzz words to gain certain crowd of audience. So I am not sure what I would see in a "gay Asian thriller." Well, it turns out, the movie totally exceeded my expectation. It made me laugh, as well as it made me cry.

Eighteen years old Ethan Mao is a hustler because he was kicked out of the house for being gay. He met Remigio on the street and they become good friends. On Thanksgiving Day, they go back to Ethan's house to get his birth mom's necklace while the family is gone. However, Ethan's family returns unexpectedly and the event rolls into a suspensive hostage situation.

It could have been easily a formula movie with cliché dialogue for a setup like that. However, with the direction of Quentin Lee and impressive performance of the casts, the film is very engaging and articulate throughout. It's touching and moving sometimes, with humor and campiness. Quentin Lee didn't make a gay film, nor an Asian film. He made a film about his characters, and Ethan is happened to be gay and Chinese. The more I know about Ethan, the more I sympathize and care about him. I also deeply moved by the friendship and dedication from Remigio toward Ethan. However, the movie never really explained (successfully) why Remigio is so kind to Ethan from day one. Sometimes, the story is not very convincing. For example, why does the necklace has to be placed in a safe deposit box if nobody in the family seem to care about it except Nathan? If I was in a situation like Nathan is, I would try to get away from the house as soon as I can, even that means leaving without the necklace, but Nathan chose otherwise. Fortunately, the film creates a few interesting characters, including Ethan's step mom, who stole so many scenes in the film.

With weakness of the plot, Ethan Mao is a terrific film. Or should I say, a terrific gay Asian film? Nah. Being gay and Asian is not what the movie is about, leave that to Ethan.
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A Refreshingly Different Story That Makes Many Meaningful Statements
gradyharp23 September 2005
Quentin Lee is to be congratulated for taking on several controversial issues and blending them into a novel story that works on many levels. While many writers and directors of Indie gay films focus on the downtrodden, bleak, tragic aspect of young gay lads coming to grips with their lives, few have presented stories that emphasize an element of redemption based on courage to change those things that can be changed.

Ethan Mao (Jun Hee Lee) is an 18-year-old Chinese American boy who has been working (gratis) for his father Abe (Raymond Ma) all his life in their Chinese restaurant. One evening at closing time a young man enters the negligently unlocked door and robs Ethan's cash register at gunpoint. Abe enters form the back of the restaurant and kills the robber, much to Ethan's chagrin. This results in an angry confrontation (one of many in an Asian family where the children are supposed to always obey the parents). Ethan is still mourning the loss of his mother and loathes his stepmother Sarah (Julia Nickson-Soul), a would-be actress who married Abe for money, bringing along her own son Josh (Kevin Kleinberg), a bright young man of obvious mixed genetic pool. Ethan also has a younger brother Noel (David Tran) with whom he has a warm and strong bond. Sarah discovers a gay magazine in Ethan's room, shares this with Abe, and Abe throws Ethan out of his home for being gay and shaming his family.

Ethan, bitter, homeless and without money, begins a life a street hustler, accepting his passive sexual role with older johns as a means of income. Serendipitously he meets Remigio (Jerry Hernandez), a fellow hustler and minor drug dealer who understands the life of an orphan's loneliness, and befriends Ethan and offers him shelter and affection. Ethan decides to return to his home on Thanksgiving (knowing that his family always goes out of town on that day) to take his belongings and get some cash. Remigio accompanies him and what begins as a simple entry into Ethan's empty home results in disaster as his family returns for a forgotten gift. Ethan rages against them and decides to hold them hostage until morning when Abe can send Sarah to the bank to retrieve Ethan's mother's necklace - the only memento he has of her. The crux of the story is how this tangled 'family' comes to different levels of understanding under duress and how Ethan (through this dream vs reality incident) arrives at forgiveness and finds love with the ever-supportive Remigio.

The acting is mixed but the cast engages us and allows each character to morph into something better than we expect. Both Jun Hee Lee and Jerry Hernandez bring credibility to their roles and the result is a palpable relationship which touches the viewers' hearts. While there are rough spots in camera work, in script, and in production, this is a strong little Indie film with a lot to say, dealing with positive images and debunking old prejudicial thoughts about sectors of society miscegenating into the fabric that makes our population more tolerant. Grady Harp
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Excellent, see it now
steve gray10 May 2005
I would say this is one of the best gay, Asian love stories ever made, but it isn't. It's just a great film whose lead characters happen to be gay hustlers. As their families have abandoned them, they have to use whatever is at hand to survive. At first, there seems to be no reason for their relationship, and the whole self sacrificing nature of Romeo seem too over the top. Only it soon becomes clear what is really going on. But the great strength of the film is it is about the effect parents violence and coldness affects children, often manifesting itself in dangerous and self destructive ways. At the end, realizing what a beautiful film the director had crafted, I would have to say it is one of the best independent gay American films ever made. But I have always been a sucker for a romance in disguise
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Gay Chinese-American Boy's Struggle in Hollywood-ish Crime Thriller
jazzest9 May 2005
If being multi-layered and multi-directional is a recent trend of the gay and lesbian cinema, Ehan Mao represents it very well; such a mainstream Hollywood format as a crime thriller frames such a specific argument as a struggle of gay Chinese-American boy Ethan Mao (Jun Hee Lee) against his family members. The excellence on the former must help the film to gain larger audience. The excellence on the latter is enhanced by the dynamics of his family members: successful and confident father, controlling step-mother who is a former actress, "good-boy" older step-brother, and gay-ish younger brother. Along with Ethan's lover Remigio (Jerry Hernandez), all characters are portrayed more or less positively--"feeling-better" may not be needed for this film's viewers; it may even reduce the film's intensity and may make the argument unclear.

One flashback sequence is inserted at a very precise moment, seemingly to confuse the audience--when Ethan and Remigio fall asleep while overseeing Ethan's family at night in the real world, a flashback of their waking up in their apartment appears. This makes the spectators wonder, at least for a moment, if what has been going on is Ethan's dream; if intentional, it is too gimmicky and unnecessary.
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Wow for 'Mao'
empselle18 October 2005
There is a billion up-and-coming gay films out there that have a tendency to entice us with their hot bods, seductive storytelling, tacky tag-lines and porno-like DVD/VHS jackets. And then every so often comes along a movie like "Ethan Mao", which reminds us why we decided to pick up a gay flick in the first place. Without giving away too much of the story, it is damn refreshing to be able to compliment this film by Quentin Lee, with honest appreciation. Lee took this smartly written script and added an impressive and talented cast, a dash of suspense, a good measure of romance and a balanced serving of ethnic/cultural understanding and acceptance. All these ingredients blend perfectly together to give us a true and genuine story from the heart. You cannot help leaving without being touched, and that my friends is just an awesome feeling!
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Worst movie I have seen in years ... perhaps ever!!!
canadianguy6210 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm sorry, but I cannot understand what people were smoking when they wrote how great they thought "Ethan Mao" was. I have seen better acting, character and plot development in pornos! WARNING: I am going to give away a key element to the "plot". After holding his family hostage overnight, Ethan lets his vile, evil, hated step-mom go to the bank - ALONE!!! - to retrieve the piece of his late mom's jewellery which he so desperately wants. Guess what? She calls the cops! Wow ... what a twist! I couldn't see that coming at all.

The only good thing about this movie was that it was less than 90 minutes.

Pure, unadulterated rubbish!
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The cover of the DVD case was better.
seakman425 October 2005
Saw this at the video store and thought I'd give it a try. Sounded like a good story and the cover looked good. That was it. The characters looked good, and the actor who played "Noel", was the most convincing, though he didn't have any heavy time in the movie. I find it really hard to give a movie a bad rating, but this is one, in a minute number, that gets it my book. As the movie went along I kept wanting it to get better but to no avail. Asthetically, it was good. The sound and lighting was good, but the acting in this film killed it for me. It was like watching a low grade soap opera. I just kept saying, "I can't believe they released this move like this". I paused several times out of sheer unbelief that the acting was that bad. There's so much I want to say but I'll just say this, everything else, for the most part, was good, it was the acting, as a final cut, that really did this film in.
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Save yourself the time ... watch paint dry!
John MERZETTI10 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
With such glowing reviews, one can only assume that those people worked on the movie, were paid by (or friends with) the film makers or were extremely inebriated/high/comatose when they saw the film.

I cannot recall when I have seen such poor acting ... oh, wait ... NEVER!!!

Rule number one when holding someone hostage ... don't let them go to the bank alone!!! Your hostage - yes, even if it is your Mom - might just call the cops! Even Stevie Wonder could have seen that "twist" coming.

Why must we settle for poor-quality film-making like this, just because it is "Gay" cinema?! Do yourselves a favour ... rent a porno ... you will be more entertained (and probably find better acting and plot development).

Complete, utter crap!!!
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A rare gem
Gordon-1110 September 2016
This film tells the story of a closeted Chinese American teenager, who is discovered by his step-mother that he is in possession of a gay magazine. His father throws him out and disowns him, and he has to turn to desperate measures just to survive.

I am impressed by "Ethan Mao" because it is different from other gay films. First, it explores the cultural shackles of being gay in a Chinese family, which is really touching. Secondly, it is almost a gay crime thriller which is very unusual! Third, sex is not needed to sell this film. There is only one kissing scene in the whole film, and that is it! The film is intense and touching, and I cried at the end. I really enjoyed watching "Ethan Mao".
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Easily ranks in the top ten of my all-time favorite gay-themed movies
mgold-87 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Having read the other reviews of this movie, I feel compelled to add my opinion. Let me first say that I know none of the people involved in making this film, I have nothing to do with the film industry whatsoever, and the only reason I'm writing this is because I really loved this movie. And just as those reviewers who felt this was one of the worst films they've ever seen, couldn't understand why anyone would like it, and claimed that anyone who gives it a high rating must be a shill -- I feel the opposite, I don't understand how anyone could dislike it so much. I thought the acting was good. And the story itself is better than great, totally original and unique. I've watched literally hundreds of gay-themed movies and there is no other like Ethan Mao. Without reservation I rank this in the top ten of my all time favorite gay-themed movies. I've watched it three times and liked it better the third time than the first. (I do, however, agree with the person who found it totally implausible that Ethan would allow his stepmother to go to the bank by herself after being held hostage by him all night!!)
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This was better than I expected.
Hunky Stud21 December 2013
i thought that this is just one of those low budget gay films with some nudity and weak stories. It was better than I expected.

It is clear that it had a low budget, that is why it didn't have much music in it,(if it had any, I certainly didn't get any impression), and the film visual quality is low. They did not use colored filter in front the lens, either. so it feels more like a TV show, instead of a film that you watch on big screen.

Sometimes, i felt that those people were acting, but not living in real life. It could be due to lack of music, or they were limited inside a house for a long time.

however, the story is not bad. Most gay films in the USA are about white males, this is a very rare film centered around an Asian gay male. When was the last time, so many Asian males all appeared in one film? for that reason alone, i totally support these kind of films.
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gays and straight: watch that!
andrefiora13 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
original. moving. wonderful. powerful... sweet & tender. you've got to see it, absolutely! i don't have already realized if the inexperience of the protagonists (ethan & remigio) is a defect, or something that made me appreciate the movie more! but i guess i would opt for the second say, since i cried so much at the end! and i also appreciated the role of the little brother even if i would have liked him...more gay! congratulations to the director who prevented the protagonists to kiss for the whole movie...i was there saying: come on ethan, touch him, kiss him...but at the end I realized where he wanted to go! last scene: the best kiss i've ever seen on a screen. don't miss it!
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The OUT boy who took hostage of his family
dj6r0k3n7 October 2005
It shows gay and family aspects of love and friendship. It's not the typical Asian aspect which shows that it is really all around. It's really multi-layered in one overall meaning. The way Jerry Hernandez shows such kindness while Ethan Mao is in distress and loss of a home is very extraordinary in the fact that Ethan is shown love from others and that the friendship grown and the hostage time helps Ethan learn about the love his family has for him. The enjoyment of watching this movie on DVD is that you get the commentaries from UC Santa Cruz professor LS Kim who is part of the Digital and Film Media department.
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Finally a recent decent movie with a gay theme
bbnnerman6 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Almost every gay movie made has either horrible acting, bad filming, or just a crappy story. Ethan Mao was none of these...well OK here and there the acting isn't amazingg but all in all it's good. The movie is touching, sad, and makes you think outside your own boundaries (especially not being Chinese). Definitely a movie that should be seen my young gay men that feel they can't deal with being home anymore, and the realities of what can happen if you decide to leave. That said it's not the typical hustler movie that just leaves you feeling cold and depressed. I definitely recommend it...and only reason I put spoiler on here is because I have to say one of the HOTTEST guy/guy kisses (at the end) that I've EVER seen. I really good have done without seeing the old fat guys goods though! :P
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more a family movie than gay movie
Gi C6 July 2008
it will kind of fly out of your expectation when you hold the idea at the beginning that this is a "gay" movie. it is more about family actually. All different kinds of relationship in an Asian-culturally-related family. The father and the son, the brother and the brother from the same parents, the brother and the brother from different mothers, the step-mother and son, the husband and the wife... they are all melted together here. not wild gay sex, not lots of dick, prepare for something else mentally before you put the disc into the player. And you should give urself a bit of patience the day when you decide to watch it. It is not that catchy at the first part of the movie. cheap-production, that is what i thought, however it will grow into more.
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