Spa Night (2016)

Spa Night
Director: Andrew Ahn
Writer: Andrew Ahn
Cast: Joe SeoYoun Ho ChoHaerry KimTopher ParkJose A. SolorioIl AhnLinda HanHo Young Chung
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 10.6.2017

David (Joe Seo) comes from a traditional Korean-American family and he’s a good son, expected to work at the family restaurant and to attend college and make a better life for himself. But when they have to close the restaurant, their carefully laid dreams and plans fall apart. That circumstance gives David a little freedom, though, to make his own choices. Without his parents’ knowledge, he ditches his SAT course and gets a part-time job in a Korean spa where he discovers a thriving gay subculture that speaks to him.

Spa Night is an incredibly heavy film. It’s not the most pleasant experience to watch it, but it’s extremely good cinema.

I felt very much with David during the film, which mostly meant that I was being slowly suffocated by circumstances and the pressures put on him, most with good intentions. There was such a strong feeling of being caged, with walls slowly closing in.

David was completely isolated and alone in pretty much every moment of the film. Whenever there seems to be a chance that he might connect to somebody, the fact that he’s closeted gets in the way. And so what remains is cloying desperation: clearly, there is no way out of this situation that won’t implode or explode at least a part, if not most of David’s life. And the ending provides no relief whatsoever.

The emotional strength of the film (that makes it easy to imagine how being/having to remain closeted will make queer people suicidal) plus the (unfortunately) unusual cultural/ethnic setting made me forgive the fact that it is yet another sad gay film.

It’s much to the testament of first-feature director Ahn and Seo’s fantastic performance that the film works the way it does and manages to conjure up this atmosphere. I do hope very much that the film is not autobiographical. Either way, it feels shockingly realistic.

Summarizing: Brace yourself, but go for it.

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