Writer-director Andrew Ahn’s remarkably assured feature-length debut is a portrait of forbidden sexual awakening set in the nocturnal world of spas and karaoke bars in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.
David Cho (Joe Seo, who won the Special Jury Award at Sundance for his breakthrough performance), a timid 18-year-old living with his financially-struggling immigrant parents, chances upon a secret spot for cruising when he takes a part-time job at an allmale spa, and begins to realize hidden inner desires that threaten his life as a dutiful son and student.
Effervescent and atmospheric, this one-of-a-kind coming-of-age story makes the steamy spa a liminal place between dream and reality, and desire and disillusionment.
“Spa Night is an intensely personal film,” said Ahn. “I knew very early in the screenwriting process that I had to draw from my own life experiences in order to find the honesty I wanted to show on screen. As the son of Korean-American immigrants, I have felt the conflict between my parents’ expectations and my own personal desires. In Spa Night, I wanted to explore what it means to be a part of a Korean-American family. As Spa Night progressed into production, the film became even more personal for me. We shot on location in Koreatown, Los Angeles — at restaurants I have eaten at, spas I have visited, and streets I have walked down. As I directed scenes, I saw my family in this fictional family I had created.”
“My main character David speaks in a mix of Korean and English to his parents, the same mix I use when I speak to my parents. With Spa Night, I want to open up American independent cinema to include stories about immigrant communities told in languages other than English. It is important that our cinema culture reflect the diversity of the American experience. By telling this story, I am attempting to validate the immigrant experience and acknowledge my parents’ sacrifice to leave their home country and start a new life in America. Spa Night is my way of fulfilling my parents’ hopes and dreams.”