Screen Gems

Dip in to a new sexual frontier. Explore the world of ‘Spa Night.’

Spa Night

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Steamy: Spa Night

Anyone looking for a queer auteur on the rise, look no further than director Andrew Ahn. In addition to helming an episode in the recent FX LGBTQ history series Pride, Ahn also directed episodes of the gay-themed Sundance series This Close, as well as the acclaimed indie Driveways which featured one of the final performances of the late, great Brian Dennehy.

For a personal and very queer story, however, we recommend visiting Ahn’s debut feature, the (quite literally) steamy drama Spa Night. The film follows David (Joe Seo), a young Korean-American who lands a job at a Los Angeles Korean spa to help his impoverished family cover the bills. Said bathhouse, however, caters to a gay clientele, and it doesn’t take long for David to discover the clandestine world of gay sex all around him. Witnessing men in various stages of coitus begins to awaken David’s own desire, as he finds himself increasingly drawn to the men around him, despite his own strict religious and conservative upbringing.

Ahn doesn’t populate Spa Night with the kind of high-minded speeches and confrontations common to dramas. Instead, he takes a more aloof approach, letting his camera drift over his characters without really commenting on the action. In that sense, the film occupies itself with voyeurism: both David’s own as he watches the gay sex around him, and that of the audience itself. Watching the story unfold, we feel less like a traditional viewer than someone hiding in the corner of the room watching characters behave as opposed to the machinations of a plot. Ahn also takes the bold step of denying David any kind of resolution. Spa Night doesn’t have a traditional ending so much as a stopping point. In another movie that would infuriate viewers. Here, it feels appropriate: David’s journey has only just begun.

Quiet, pensive, and charged with sexual yearning, Spa Night portrays an unidealized vision of sexual awakening. Ahn knows that with that rapture comes pain, fear and uncertainty. No doubt most of us in the queer world can relate.

Streams on Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.