Korean American filmmaker Andrew Ahn’s “Spa Night,” an LGBT story about a young man’s struggle with his sexual awakening that threatens his life as a dutiful son of an immigrant family, took home a coveted trophy at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday night.
“This is so meaningful that this award is going to a film about a Korean American immigrant family, about queer Korean American people,” Ahn said on stage, after receiving the John Cassavetes Award, an honor for the best feature made for under $500,000. “Now, more than ever, it’s so important that we support stories told by and about communities that are marginalized, that we tell stories about immigrants, about Muslims, women of color, about trans and queer folk. Film is such a powerful tool in humanizing these communities so that we can’t be pushed aside, labeled as ‘other.’ We are part of this great country, and we are undeniable.”
The director was also nominated that night for the Someone to Watch Award.
Ahn has used his own intimate experience with his family to write and direct his pics — his first short film picked up by the Sundance circuit, “Dol,” was a project he produced to come out to his family.
The feature-length “Spa Night” began as a Kickstarter in 2014. Last year, speaking to Kore, Ahn said the inspiration for the film came from discovering, though a friend, that the same K-Town Korean spas he used to frequent with his father were host to late-night hook-ups within the gay community.
“[The Korean spa] was a family space, a very cultural space,” Ahn said. “I couldn’t believe that a space I went to as a kid was being used in that way. As a gay man, it was kind of exciting, too – this intersection of my gay and Korean identities in this location was really what inspired me to start writing ‘Spa Night.’”
The story is as much an exploration of LGBT identity, Ahn had said, as it is a look into what it means to be Korean American, Ahn had said. “I really want this to be a film that parents can watch, and that helps them understand what their son or daughter might be going through. I wanted to start that dialogue: What does it mean to be queer and Korean American?”
The film has seen other accolades — it picked up a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance for leading actor Joe Seo at Sundance last year, as well as a nomination for Ahn in the Grand Jury Prize category, and won both Special Mention for Outstanding Performance, for Seo, and the U.S. Grand Jury Prize, for Ahn, at Outfest.
Ahn ended his speech Saturday with a special shoutout to his parents: “Finally, I have to thank my parents for understanding that their gay Korean American son is their son. Thank you.”
Check out Ahn talking to us in depth about his film below: