An immigrant saga and a coming-of-age story which main hero, David (Joe Seo), an American teenager of Korean origin, is going through a difficult
period. His parents’ restaurant had to be closed because his father can no longer afford the lease and his own SAT performance has been found not up to the scratch. Now his mom is working as a waitress, his dad is drinking heavily, drifting from one menial temporary job to another, and he himself is not sure whether or not he is gay or what should he do with his life. In order to help his parents pay the bills, his refreshment course bills included, David finds a temporary job in the titular spa/bathhouse for men. His new position still brings you more sorrow than money.
The movie was shot on real Koreatown locations — and featuring mostly Korean dialogue. I found it a bonus. What I didn’t like, it moved slowly and several times I wished it was edgier, faster. Perhaps, as a contemplation of loneliness, the slowish pace was ok, but from time to time I found it slightly boring. A social drama about social issues doesn’t have to be boring after all. I know real life is not always a growth spurt but a movie plot should be engaging, right?
Spa Night has been marketed as a “gay Korean film” but it’s far less erotic than you’d expect. It’s largely a family film, as silly as it sounds, because family dynamics is the most important here. Should David be a dutiful son and fulfill his parents’ wishes and expectations? Should he rebel against them, find his own way and be happier? He does so in a way, opting for spa nights over his SAT study, but, on the other hand, his parents need badly any financial help they can get so…
I liked his performance and the performance of David’s mother, Soyoung, played by Haerry Kim, a disillusioned immigrant who was promised a better life in America, only to pick up a waitressing job she hates and constantly fight about money with her husband. Still I found the ending frustrating.
An homage to the sacrifices first-generation immigrants made in order that their children could achieve their full potential in the States. Plus a coming-of-age story but without the coming-out-of-the-closet bit. For interested in both these topics and highly motivated viewers.