While studying literature in college, I was inspired by Thomas Hardy's tragic character-driven novels such as Tess of the D'urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Hardy's intense character study and his empathy with disillusioned and underprivileged characters have left an indelible impression on me. I was especially fascinated by the ironic innocence of Tess, who was raped in the first 30 pages of the novel but remained "virgin-like" throughout the remainder of the book. I’d like to think Ethan Mao is my own dramatic feature update/homage to Tess of the D'urbervilles.
Ethan Mao merges several genres. It is a drama about a gay teenager living on the margins of society. It is also a psychological thriller filled with unexpected twists and turns. Finally, it is a (gay) love story about Ethan, who in the beginning of the movie feels he is incapable of loving or finding someone who will love him.
In addition, Ethan Mao explores the conflicts and relationships between failed parents and damaged children. It is also a romantic and transgressive teenage love story with a nod to Bonnie and Clyde and Romeo and Juliet.
At the heart of it all, it is about a damaged boy’s quest to get what he deserves in life and love—regardless of the circumstances or risks.