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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★★★★★ 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 Farah 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 aaron on Letterboxd
"I bet no one will even notice we're gone.
A "B" rating for cleanliness sits in the window. Something about leaving or moving away from something in defeat. The "B" rating shows that even though they weren't perfect, they were still there trying. Something about that really stuck out to me.
The mom taking a job as a waitress. The husband being a cook at another restaurant. The son taking classes to improve his chances of getting into a better college and thus improving his life. Sacrificing your desires for the greater good of the family.
"We didn't more here so you could move furniture."
But at the end of the day you do what you want and usually that doesn't always line up with what's best for you.
★★★★ review by Jianne Soriano on Letterboxd
There is a scene in Spa Night where David is rubbing the right side of his stomach vigorously. My interpretation of the act is the cleansing of shame. But director Andrew Ahn, who attended the Q&A section of his film during its premiere in Sundance Hong Kong said, this act is the peeling away of David's old self rather than shame. It's more positive and more symbolic than my own.
I share that because Spa Night is a film that has so many layers to it. Prior to watching, I thought it's a film about exploring a young man's sexuality. But no, it's about his Korean-American identity as much as it is about his sexuality. It about his acceptance and exploration not only of who he is as a Korean-American but also as a gay man. Hence, I see Spa Night as a symbolic and vivid coming-of-age story.
There is so much details in this film. Not only with the visuals but even with the sound given its lack of an actual score. There is so much natural sound like everything is just...natural and raw. Ahn portrays David as a typical Korean-American but in other ways, not a typical Korean-American. For one, he subverts the "Asians are smart" stereotype but he embodies the innocent face. Still, with characters like Eddie to subvert "Asian men are not attractive" stereotype is another little detail.
To me, it feels like every action in this film has a purpose and every choice taken has been thought about seriously. That's how I felt while watching this. Joe Seo, who plays David embodies the clueless, innocent man that his character possesses but also carries in him the pain and bottled up feeling of someone who just wants to explode. It is incredible.
Spa Night is daring. It is bold and filled with emotions. It is a subtle journey of identity. It is amazing.
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