A young Korean-American man works to reconcile his obligations to his struggling immigrant family with his burgeoning sexual desires in the underground world of gay hookups at Korean spas in Los Angeles.
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★★★★½ review by franki_xcx on Letterboxd
I loved this way too much. I can't explain why, but it really just had me shook in the most subtle and heartbreaking ways. The exploration of identity and the pressure of being a child of an immigrant family quietly devastated me and I really resonated with this. It provides an unrepresented voice in film with a truly captivating portrait of sadness and intimacy. Unfortunately I hadn't heard much about this upon release but I hope that now since it is on Netflix that more people watch this. It has a very unique voice though, which is what I love about it, but I can understand why many will not give it a chance or connect with it. It's super gay, and unapologetically so. This is the debut of writer/director Andrew Ahn and he shows great promise and I can't wait to see what he does next.
★★★★ review by Aaron Hendrix on Letterboxd
What are you looking at?
Ahn's tale of sexual awakening is a story told in glances, shifts, and sighs. Like Haynes' impeccable melodrama, Carol, Spa Night uses the setting's sexual repression to keep the emotions covert and unspoken. Furtive glances are shot at spa attendants probingly. The spa, awash in cool neon blue, dampens the steamy emotions that float above the patrons. And, it is in this otherworldly atmosphere that David appears his most comfortable - even if there is, initially, hesitation.
And, for the most part, Ahn's remarkable restraint pays off. The performances all around are spectacular. However, the script can't quite measure up. Though the tale is appropriately subdued, the dialogue feels stilted in scenes. Certain characters say things that feel purposefully crafted to shuttle the plot along.
Still, this is one of the best films of 2016. Between this, Moonlight, and Carol, I'm really liking the subtlety of these stories centered around LGBTQ+ folk. I give Spa Night a 4/5.
★★★½ review by Alex on Letterboxd
Found this to be quite mature, especially liked the parents. The kind of filmmaker who makes a lot of choices that go above you. I really loved the warm/cold, tungsten/blue competing hues that we saw in a lot of the spa scenes. The storyboarding/storytelling was fresh enough that this felt like it revitalized the genre a bit. Love seeing an almost entirely asian (not sure if all Korean) cast/crew represented. His breakdown was fantastic but I'm not a fan of the ending; was hoping for not necessarily resolution or closure, but would've appreciated a little more of a nudge re: the relationship with his parents and what his life'll look like, moving forwards, outside of the obvious parallel that he was running, and clearly, moving forward.
★★★½ review by anthony on Letterboxd
An affectingly intimate drama about a closeted Korean-American teenager struggling to come to terms with his own homosexuality. Drags a bit too much in its final act, with director Andrew Ahn repeating a lot of the same visual language (silent glances and such), and the ending feels unfortunately underwhelming, but the rest of SPA NIGHT packs an emotional punch, with Joe Seo's lead performance as David at the front of the charge. What surprised me the most was that the film's most interesting component wasn't the coming-out story, but rather its exploration of the immigrant experience in relation to the American Dream, with Haerry Kim and Youn Ho Cho turning in strong supporting performances as David's parents. The cinematography, often imbued with shades of blues to reflect David's repressed sexuality, proves rather beautiful as well. If you're interested in checking out more LGBT and/or minority-directed films, then this one's for you.
★★★½ review by Raul Marques on Letterboxd
Did anyone else hit arthouse bingo? I mean, unusual subcultural setting, a young, self-doubting protagonist discovering their sexuality, spare plot, dialog & camera movement, neon lighting, family drama, sneaky anxiety-attack triggers and, obviously, an open ending to top it all off. It doesn't mean it's bad, on the contrary, most of it works splendidly, it's just that it sort of has been done before to somewhat more memorable overall results.
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