Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Spa Night: Teen Angst in Koreatown
you know you’re going to be wrestling with your sexuality, you might as well
get paid for it. Essentially, that is the decision David Cho makes when he takes
a part-time job at an all-male spa in Koreatown. It draws traditional clients
from the Korean-American community, who see the health spa as a place for a
good scrub and the latest gossip, as well as multi-racial, multi-ethnic
customers, who frequent the establishment to quietly prospect for sexual
encounters. Cho has a foot in both worlds, which causes him considerable inner
turmoil throughout Andrew Ahn’s Spa Night
which opens today in New York, at the Metrograph.
is gay (most likely), but he is only just starting to be honest with himself
and he is not about to come out of the closet with his traditional Korean
immigrant parents anytime soon. Rather inconveniently, this is not his most
pressing problem. Cho always assumed he would be a good son by taking over the
family restaurant, but when it shutters due to his father’s mismanagement, it
leaves his future in a state of limbo. Suddenly, his parents’ expectations
change drastically. Despite their precarious financial position, they expect
him to become an overnight academic achiever, who can score a scholarship to
USC. Unfortunately, he does not have the necessary grades and test scores, nor
do his parents have the money for cram school, but they enroll him anyway.
Spa Night has frequently been
positioned as a sexual coming of age story, it is really more about the
disconnect between first and second generations within immigrant families.
Sexual identity just happens to be a conspicuous wedge to potentially divide
them. Yet, what makes the film so poignant is the compassion Cho shows for his
problematic parents: his mother Soyoung tenaciously clinging to her dignity and
his father Jin slowly succumbing to shame and desperation.
any event, it is easy to see why Joe Seo won the Special Jury Award at this year’s
Sundance for his lead performance. He avoids all the easy clichés, playing Cho
as a confused but ever so human and humane plugger. He also has the perfect
physicality, looking simultaneously nebbish and bulked up. He comes across as a
man between worlds in every sense. Both Haerry Kim and Youn Ho Cho thoroughly
humanize Soyoung and Jin Cho.
Granted, we basically know where this Theodore Dreiser-esque
tale of family tribulation is headed every step of the way, but the maturity
and fundamental decency of the performances still makes it feel fresh. It is a
sad story, but it is not bereft of hope. (After the first twenty minutes, most
viewers will have the same realization: this kid needs to move to New York ASAP).
Recommended for those who appreciate a coming of age story with economic and
sexual identification dimensions, Spa
Night opens today (8/19), at the Metrograph.
Labels: Coming of age films, Koreatown