UP­CLOSE: ANDREW AHN

HK Magazine - - CULTURE - Com­piled by Jessica Wei jessica.wei@hk­mag­me­dia.com

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”

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