A young gay hustler impulsively holds his family hostage in Quentin Lee’s third and least accomplished film, “Ethan Mao,” which, like its anti-hero, never quite knows which way to go once things get started. Film shares ingrained senses of lament and suspense with Lee’s “Shopping for Fangs” and “Drift,” but messy admixtures of drama and mockery crucially undermine pic’s serious message. A sure item at gay and Asian-American fests, “Mao” will require ultra-careful handling to take residence in theatrical homes.
Lee does his script no service by playing needlessly with the chronology. Teenage Ethan (Jun Hee Lee) is first seen in full hustler mode, then in a more innocent guise in the past when he was living with his strict storeowner father (Raymond Ma). Father’s shooting of a robber scarred Ethan for life. After falling in with fellow hustler and nice guy Remigio (Jerry Hernandez), Ethan returns home to get some favorite keepsakes, but an accident leads to the hostage-taking — and some horrible pseudo-comedy with Ethan’s vixenish stepmom (Julia Nickson). Exchanges flirt with camp, leaving what should have been a thoughtful psychological thriller in uncertain territory.