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Filmmaker Andrew Ahn Jimmy Sianipar/Courtesy of Andrew Ahn adumbrate explanation
I bethink communicable Andrew Ahn’s abbreviate blur Dol (First Birthday) at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Blur Anniversary in 2012. Accepting abounding a few dol parties myself, I was accustomed with the affectionate cultural ambience of Ahn’s blur about a Korean-American ancestors adulatory a child’s anniversary aboriginal birthday: the ambrosial little boy dressed in acceptable costume, the dining table burdened with Korean dishes, and, afterwards the meal, the mat advance on the attic afore the child, broadcast with altar apery his approaching career paths. If he grabs the pen, he’s meant to become a scholar; if he goes for the cash, he’ll be a business mogul.
Ahn’s advocate in Dol, the adolescent uncle of the altogether boy, is . Afore the party, his admirer accurately wraps a allowance for the nephew, but understands that he isn’t arrive to bless with the family. Dol is a affecting abstraction in the tensions of a disconnected life. The film’s protagonist, while not absolutely joyless, agilely suffers a aside actuality in which his Korean-American and identities can’t absolutely intersect. Aback the lights came up in the amphitheater for the post-screening Q&A, I agilely wiped abroad tears.
An MFA alum in blur from the California Institute of the Arts, Ahn, 29, is now at assignment on his aboriginal feature-length narrative, Spa Night. The blur treads agnate arena as Dol, in that Ahn is already afresh exploring Korean-American and anomalous identities. This time, he’ll accord audiences a appearance into the underground ability of hookups in Korean spas in Los Angeles. I chatted with Ahn about activity afterwards Dol, which buried at added than 30 anniversary venues and won the Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Anecdotal Abbreviate at Outfest: LA, and the afflatus and analysis abaft Spa Night.
You absolutely casting associates of your ancestors in Dol. What was that like?
I had to casting my ancestors because there was no way, with my resources, that I would be able to acquisition a casting of 15 Korean actors. So, in that faculty it was necessary. But it was additionally difficult because I didn’t acquaint them what the blur was about. They had no idea. In Dol, the capital appearance is . The ball of the blur is that he can’t amount out how his and Korean identities alive together. It was a bit of an ethical dilemma: to allure my ancestors into the film, but not acquaint them what it’s about.
Still from the abbreviate blur Dol (First Birthday) Courtesy of Andrew Ahn adumbrate explanation
In the advancing out process, you alive altered levels of “outedness.” At that time, I was actual adequate in my female at school, in West Hollywood, with my friends. Authoritative Dol was my way of equalizing my life. I appetite to be out completely. I knew the moment of accuracy was aback I showed my ancestors the film. I consistently knew it was activity to be my way of advancing out to them. I’d approved before, in abounding altered ways. Accepting the conversation, or introducing them to my boyfriend. Things like that. But every time I had the opportunity, I affectionate of flaked. I accomplished it was because it all hinged on this jump-off-the-cliff feeling. Casting my ancestors was like the active arch start.
The blur buried at Sundance, and went to all of these festivals, but the capital ambition was absolutely aloof to appearance it to my parents. If I did that, that was a success for me. So the actuality that it did alike more, and fabricated me appear out to the world, because I was accepting press, that was absolutely liberating. It gave me a lot of aplomb and direction. Like, yes, I appetite to accomplish LGBTQ Korean-American films. This is area I’m meant to be.
Do you see yourself as a political filmmaker? Do you accept a political calendar in authoritative these kinds of films, in autograph your characters?
I don’t absolutely anticipate my films are “message films,” at atomic not in a absolute way. They’re political in that I’m casting aloft an admirers a animal that they accept to accord with, and in compassionate these characters as people, as animal beings, you’re fabricated to attending at the apple in a hardly altered way. It’s never my ambition to force a point of view, but to appearance one.
Let’s allocution about Spa Night. How did you ascertain this ability of anomalous hookups in Korean spas?
I was out in West Hollywood, and a acquaintance of abundance told me about how he had a hot amalgamation at a Korean spa. And at aboriginal that was so abominable to me, because a Korean spa is, like, area I went with my dad aback I was a kid. A amalgamation articulate so amiss there. It aloof didn’t belong.
Going aback to Korean spas as an adult, I see that it exists there. You see it happen. There’s consistently activity to be some slippage amid the social acquaintance of men actuality naked, to the erotic. It happens in locker rooms. It exists if you attending for it.
With Dol, I was exploring the circle of uality and Korean-American identity. There’s the ancestors anniversary of the nephew’s aboriginal birthday, and afresh there’s the ancestors at home, amid my capital character, his accomplice and his dog. With Spa Night, the circle is the location. This is area and Korean cultures alive together. I started developing the abstraction about a closeted Korean-American jailbait application the Korean spa as a window. A accustomed aqueduct to analyze his uality.
I knew it was activity to be a absolutely difficult blur to make, because I had to get admission to the Korean community, at spas, in churches. In a lot of ways, it was activity to be radical.
Why did it complete “wrong,” audition that your acquaintance had a amalgamation in a Korean spa?
Korean spas acquainted array of sacred, in a way. We went every New Year’s to cleanse, like you had to accept a apple-pie anatomy to alpha the year. It acquainted like church. It was a bonding affair I did with my family. And afresh I heard about the amalgamation culture. It had consistently been so accessible for me to abstracted the two. And actuality they were absolutely in the aforementioned space. It was afflictive to apprehend that.
The blur is a way for me to coin a anomalous Korean-American identity, to acquisition these situations area the two cultures aren’t separate, but they co-exist. It’s this catechism of actuality whole. That for me is what causes the tension, and is the point of the film. Korean Americans, Asian Americans, are animal beings, and some of them are .
Are Korean men accepting the hookups? Non-Koreans?
I would say at a lot of the spas area this is absolutely popular, the admirers is 90 percent non-Korean. It’s black, Latino, white. Every now and afresh you will see a Korean who looks like he ability be looking. Whenever I’ve had to go to a Korean spa — and I’ve had to go to a ton of them for research, for area aloof for the blur — no one anytime thinks I’m there for any added acumen than as a Korean actuality who showers. That’s how I’m seen. I can tell. The spa administrator can be affectionate of acute — if it’s a white , he ability affectionate of be suspicious. But if I’m there, it’s like, “Oh, he’s aloof a Korean .”
[Outside the spa], there’s a assertive allotment of me that feels “American” by the way I dress, the way that I talk. But at the spa, you’re not talking, and you’re absolutely naked. I feel the best Korean that I anytime feel, because it’s my naked Korean body, in this Korean space. Aback you attending at added people, you’re seeing them naked, and the cues that you usually use to accept who a actuality is aren’t there anymore. You accept added cues. Tattoos, piercing, manscaping. It’s addition way of interacting.
How did you access analysis for Spa Night?
Some of the analysis action was through online forums. There’s an online appointment for men who angle up in Korean spas in LA, belief about what they’ve done, if anyone’s anytime gotten caught, things like that. There was activity to spas and seeing how a Korean ability of bathing and abrasion can alive appropriate alongside actual amative cruising.
“These are the challenges of actuality a anomalous Korean-American filmmaker, aggravating to accomplish a anomalous Korean-American film. I accept why there are so abounding films about beeline white people.”
We talked to spas aback we were aggravating to get permission to shoot, and aback we talked about the content, a lot of spas were like, “No way. Nope.” Actually, best of them said no. And afresh that’s aback I realized, again, that I’d accept to abstain that advice in adjustment to get this done. It acquainted like Dol all over again, this catechism of ethics. I accomplished I had to authority on to this activity of, “What I’m accomplishing is activity to be accessible to someone.” If the alone way to accomplish this blur is to abstain some information, I would accept to do that.
It additionally fabricated me angry, and sad, that these are the challenges of actuality a anomalous Korean-American filmmaker, aggravating to accomplish a anomalous Korean-American film. I accept why there are so abounding films about beeline white people. No one will accuse or booty issues. You appetite a location, you can accept it. I absent actors because they were afflictive with the accountable matter. These are the problems you face aback you’re authoritative a blur like this. This is apparently the case with any affectionate of assorted cinema. There’s article at stake, and there’s activity to be challenges.
What abashed you about the research? Did you ascertain annihilation you didn’t expect?
There is a anecdotal of Korean parents, or Asian-American parents in general, actuality absolutely adamantine on their children. Expecting a lot, absent a lot, and if the accouchement aren’t succeeding, they get punished. But the added I anticipation about it, and talked to my accompany about it, actually, what fabricated it adamantine about affair the expectations wasn’t the abhorrence of actuality punished. It was the actuality that our families admired us. That they were so aflame for us. And that was what fabricated it nuanced and interesting.
If my capital character’s parents were a*******, I could see him aloof advancing out to them by actuality like, “F**** you, I’m , and I’m accepting out of here.” But it’s the actuality that they adulation him so much, and that he loves them so much. You don’t appetite to carelessness them. You’re activity to accept to accompany them into your activity in some way.
Photo from the set of Spa Night Courtesy of Andrew Ahn adumbrate explanation
That was the better adumbration for me, that all the accent I had as a jailbait and adolescent developed doesn’t axis from actuality abashed that you’re activity to get hit; it’s because I absolutely capital to alive up to those expectations, to accord that to my parents, but I don’t apperceive if I could. Especially as a man. Am I activity to be able to accord them grandchildren, in the way they appetite grandchildren? Am I activity to accept a family?
What was your accord to LA’s Koreatown growing up?
Koreatown was this abode area my parents and grandparents could get abroad with not accepting to allege English. I alone anytime went to Koreatown aback I was with family. It’s absorbing now that I can analyze Koreatown as an adult, on my own. I’ll be at a restaurant or bar now, and my dar goes off on addition Korean . It exists! [Laughs] This association exists.
Now Koreatown’s become so hip. That’s what I acquisition so alluring about Korean spas — so abounding of my non-Korean accompany adulation it. It’s affectionate of strange, because for me it’s so familiar, and additionally familial, but for added bodies it’s a hip destination, like, “We’re activity to do a ‘night out’ in Koreatown.”
I anticipate that’s why the underground ability of hookups is so absorbing to me. It’s complex, because it’s a little bit of an corruption of the space. At the aforementioned time, as a man, I absolutely accept that is actuality pushed to these abstruse places. I apperceive for a actuality that abounding of the men who go to Korean spas to angle up are affiliated to women. They’re cutting bells rings. There’s article adverse about that, that this is how you’re cogent your uality, and this is how you acquisition .
That’s a little bit of what I was aggravating to analyze in the film, this catechism of “Why this space, why here?” These men who go to the Korean spas, it’s altered from the 20-somethings who are like, “Ktown’s my hood.” It’s a actual altered way of interacting with Korean culture. I anticipate for some of these men, it’s not alike about the actuality that it’s a Korean spa. It’s aloof a place.
But your advocate is Korean.
And that’s what complicates it for him. For him, it can’t aloof be a abode to angle up. It is a Korean spa. That band in his accord to the amplitude makes what he’s accomplishing added tricky.
You fabricated Dol as a way to appear out to your family. Are you envisioning Spa Night will acknowledge article to your family, or to a added audience?
My dad, aback I aboriginal came out to him, said: “No, there’s no Korean people. There’s none.” Spa Night is an befalling to appearance Korean-Americans that Korean bodies exist. We’re not all activity out to WeHo [queer-friendly West Hollywood], we’re not heathens you can ignore. We go to abbey with you. We adulation actuality Korean as abundant as you adulation actuality Korean. We amount these traditions in our ability as abundant as you do.
There are Asian bodies out there, but I feel like they’re actual calmly pushed abroad from the Korean-American, Asian-American community. Whether because they’re campy, or they’re alone speaking in English — 75 percent of Spa Night is in Korean. My achievement is that it helps Korean-Americans see that the association is diverse.
For a added audience, it’s that there are bodies who aren’t white! [Laughs] That we can allocution about uality not aloof in a white context. That it’s not aloof WeHo, it’s additionally in Korean spas.
Ultimately, my character’s activity through this attempt of acclimation identities. I anticipate anybody has to antithesis identities. Whether you’re a woman, Latino, you’re American, international, all these altered things anybody ends up juggling. That was my ambition with Spa Night, that you would see this appearance as acutely and acutely Korean at the aforementioned time, and that you couldn’t abjure him of either of those things.
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