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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Los Angeles' Korean spas serve as meeting place and bridge between past and future for generations of immigrant families; Spa Night explores one Korean-American family's dreams and realities as each struggles with the overlap of personal desire, disillusionment, and sense of tradition.
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Beautifully shot and very well made on a truly micro budget, this story of a gay 2nd generation teen Korean coming of age in Los Angeles gains from it's intelligent production, attention to detail and unusual cultural setting, but also loses something in it's extremely familiar basic story of adolescence as well as in being so cold in it's lead actor's effect-less nature and the character's almost wordless personality. Add that with the film's distanced style and there ultimately is more to admire here than to be deeply emotionally engaged in. It's also not helpful that while Joe Seo underplays right to the edge of disappearing as David, our protagonist, some in supporting roles overplay to the point of near caricature. Neither extreme might have felt off putting in a film where the acting was more of a piece. But having the two styles next to each other was too often a reminder I was watching a film played by actors, not real human beings. Also, while I have no idea how old Joe Seo is, he looks far older than the high-school student he's supposed to be, which also took something away from feeling for the character's youthful confusion and ennui. nnNone-the-less, for all that carping I'm very glad I saw the film, and in Ahn's delicate use of imagery there were a good number of poetic moments that captured the painful and joyful confusion of finding one's adult self starting to emerge, even when that self puts you on a cultural collision course with your both your parents and your community.nnIf not the best coming of age film of recent years, it's at least a worthy addition to that admittedly overcrowded genre.
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