UPCLOSE: ANDREW AHN
HK Magazine: “Spa Night” tackles heavy themes— family struggles, ethnic identity and sexual identity.
Yet the film is restrained and slow-paced. Why?
Andrew Ahn: For me, it all went back to this character. David is an introverted, quiet person. In order to really get a sense of his emotional journey and the struggles he’s facing, we had to be really patient with him. David’s struggle is also hard to pinpoint. You can say, “Oh, it’s because he’s gay,” but there’s a kind of swirling identity that is hard to make concrete. I didn’t want these themes to be very obvious or to go for big drama, because that’s not how we deal with those struggles in our own lives.
HK: Did you intend for the film to be mostly in Korean? AA: We knew that there was going to be a lot of Korean in the film, but we didn’t know how comfortable our lead actor would be speaking Korean. We cast Joe Seo in that role and he actually speaks quite a lot of Korean, so we decided to use it to our advantage. It really did tip the scale that made it a very Korean-language-heavy film. I find it very fascinating that a film that’s 70 percent in Korean can still be considered an American movie, and an American story.
HK: Are audiences ready for more diverse narratives? AA: I would love “Spa Night” to help in that process because I really think it’s important that cinema reflects the diversity of the world that we live in today. It’s important that American films not just talk about white people’s stories.
HK: You subvert a lot of Hollywood archetypes of queer and Asian characters. Did you feel any pressure to change some aspects of it to reach a wider audience? AA: The scariest moment for me was when we were trying to find the financing: Somebody told me that I needed to write a role for a white actor, so we would be able to put in a big star. It just didn’t make sense. I really wanted to focus on this Korean-American community and how Korean spas are a contained, pressure-filled bubble. I think it was very telling that someone was trying to change this aspect of this story that I felt was very important and made the film meaningful. HK: What advice do you have for anyone interested in making art about their experiences?
AA: The most important lesson I learned was that even if what you’re making is a personal story and unique to you, in order to bring it to life you have to find a community of people to support you. You want to find people who are interested in it, who can talk to you about it, because you’re not making art in a vacuum. You want it to engage with the world.
Catch the last screening of “Spa Night” at Sundance Hong Kong on Oct 1, 3:30pm at the Metroplex, G/F, E-Max, KITEC, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay. $90 from hk.sundance.org
Korean-American director Andrew Ahn’s first feature film is “Spa Night,” a coming-of-age tale of the closeted son of Korean immigrants in Los Angeles. Ahead of the film’s screening at Sundance Hong Kong, he tells Jessica Wei about his struggles getting his film completed, immigrant communities, and making art about unconventional lives.
Youn Ho Cho, Haerry Kim and Joe Seo in “Spa Night”