Spa Night

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday October 3, 2016

Spa Night

David (Joe Seo) is the Korean-American son of immigrants Jin (Youn Ho Cho) and Soyoung (Haerry Kim). The family run a restaurant and move in Korean-speaking circles, such that David's parents seem not to have learned English (David serves as translator for them). The traditions of their country of origin remain strong; Soyoung presses David to find a girlfriend, and eventually marry and provide grandchildren. Father Jin is a little more understanding -- or so he thinks; David's hesitance when it comes to girls isn't a matter of shyness or unwillingness to commit while he's still so young.

Another tradition the family partakes in is the visit to the spa, where the guys steam and bathe together while Soyoung ventures off alone to the women's area. (That's another reason she's impatient for David to marry: So she can have a daughter-n-law to keep her company.)

The family's internal dynamics and turmoils are deftly drawn. Before long, it becomes evident that the restaurant is failing. When the doors finally shutter, Jin slips into alcoholic melancholy, fretting about what he feels are his failures as a man and provider. Soyoung, meantime, jumps into a new full-time job as a waitress to help keep the family afloat; an additional pressure is the need for David to take some remedial classes to improve his SAT scores, in order to ensure his admission to a good college.

But David is less interested in higher education than finding a way to come to terms with his sexuality; thinking he'll help support his family while finding an avenue to explore his desires, David takes a job at a spa, where the opportunities for contact are as thrilling as the risk of exposure is terrifying.

Writer-director Andrew Ahn doesn't see a need to connect every dot, and he's right; his filmmaking style allows the viewer to fill in the gaps. His cast excel at signaling the characters' inner lives, and the milieu they live in is sketched in without too much emphasis on detail or cultural tensions. The film doesn't shy away from nudity -- it is set largely in a bath house, after all -- but neither is it unnecessarily provocative. What we see on screen is but a fraction of what we get from this empathetically-written, sensitively acted and directed work.


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.