Joe Seo stars as David, a Korean-American teenager who seems to be at a crucial point in his life. His parents have fallen on some hard times, he’s struggling to bring up his SAT scores to the level needed for his preferred colleges, and he’s dealing with his own homosexuality. A partying night out leads him to a Korean spa, which leads to him applying for a job there. And he soon finds out that there are some regular clients who use the spa as a place to engage in impersonal sexual activity.
Although this features a decent amount of supporting actors, Spa Night really rests on the shoulders of Seo, and he’s more than up to the task. His performance is a bit muted at times, and sometimes frustratingly unemotional, but that is in line with his character, who is both a teenager AND hiding something from others that will probably constitute a big part of his identity.
The subject matter may sound a bit seedy and cliched when described in shorthand – teenager starts to experience more of his own desires while watching men use one another for sex in a local spa – but that’s only the surface. Using the other elements in David’s life, and a tasteful balance of what is shown and what isn’t, the viewer is guided along through this world with a steady hand from writer-director Andrew Ahn (making his feature debut by expanding on themes explored in a short entitled Dol, from what I can gather).
A film about exploration and fear and excitement and resentment, Spa Night throws together a collage of sensations that really lend texture to the mental landscape of David. The warm, damp nature of the spa itself, of course. The sounds of breathing while flesh is touching flesh. Even a hand on the handrail of an exercise machine becomes the focus of our attention for a moment, as it becomes the focal point for David. But there’s also the sadness of his parents arguing and fretting over money, or a moment in which he removes a toothpick from the mouth of his sleeping father (something that it looks as if he’s been used to doing many times before). And we also have the many times we see David looking at his own reflection in a steamed-up mirror. Wondering about things. Not always sure who is moving behind him. Or even who is looking back at him.
Spa Night is showing at 2035 on 25th June in Cineworld, and at 1815 on 26th June in Odeon 4.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: ANDREW AHN
STARS: JOE SEO, CHO YOUN-HO, HAERRY KIM, SONG TAE, CHUNG HO-YOUNG, LINDA HAN
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA, SOUTH KOREA