Maria’s review published on Letterboxd:
I doubt anyone will agree with me on this, but Ang Lee’s only romantic comedy is also his saddest film. Tragedy makes pain and loss palpable, and once that pain and that loss are tangible, they can be processed. There’s catharsis; those emotions can be released through tears. But when they’re disguised as comedy, then they remain unprocessed, forever growing like weeds around your heart.
The shackles of heteronormativity are endless, painful, and often remain unsaid, unspoken—a secret trauma carried inside for as long as we live.
No one in this film—especially the men, who are bound to the repression expected of them by tradition—can express their true emotions. They have to deal with their truth alone—their trauma (Wai-Tung, who will carry out the rest of his life with a physical reminder of his sexual assault, an assault he never deals with and merely describes as “things got out of hand”), their acceptance (Mr. Gao, who could set his son free, but cannot bring himself to because of tradition, thus binding himself and his son to a lie that will always keep them apart), and their knowledge (Simon, knowing one truth but not the other, not allowed to say anything, a player with limited moves in his own life).
The happy ending is not happy at all. Some have called it bittersweet, but it’s more than that. It’s a charade the characters are willing to play (with the exception of Mrs. Gao, the only one who is able to express her feelings, though not through words but through tears) because if they smile, if they don’t speak, if they ignore their tragedy, there’s a small, impossible chance that all will be well.
I will always find a false happy ending sadder and more heartbreaking than tragedy.
As the men are cleaning the apartment for Wai-Tung’s parents, hiding all traces of their homosexuality, they hide their copy of Todd Haynes’ Poison. That alone deserves the biggest of hearts.