Gay in Koreatown
David Cho (Joe Seo) is an adolescent on the cusp of manhood. He lives in a tight-knit, traditional home in the heart of Koreatown, Los Angeles with his first-generation parents. David worked at the family restaurant but business was slow, the restaurant was forced to close. His mother, Soyoung, found a job as a waitress, but his unemployed father, Jin, began a downward spiral and as this happens, tension builds in the home. spiral downward. As the patriarchal balance teeters, tension builds at home.
To please his mother, David pretends to go to SAT classes but secretly has taken a job at a Korean spa to help his family make ends meet. At the spa, he discovers an underground world of gay sex that both scares and excites him. As David explores his sexuality, his family life crumbles, forcing him to reconcile his own desires with his parents’ hopes, dreams, and expectations.
Joe Seo gives an incredible performance as David, a young man dealing with sexual awakening. This is writer/director Andrew Ahn’s debut as a director and his story of a closeted Korean-American youth who is not a boy yet not quite a man rings true throughout.The film focuses on a close knit family involved in a economic crisis that forces them to adapt for an unplanned scenario and Ahn begins with characters facing a tenuous future. But Ahn’s film is more than that— it’s a hopeful narrative of a young man awakening to his sexuality via the activities he sees and experiences after taking a position at a local male only Korean Night Spa. The film explores the intersections of two particular communities.
The circumstances involving the Korean spas as known gay cruising areas in contemporary Los Angeles is not new, although Ahn may be the first to directly address this as a necessary evil by owners and a problem for heterosexual clients. Technically, sexual activities at these establishments are illegal, and considering legal bath houses for gay men do exist in several areas throughout Los Angeles this situation speaks to the tempting power of the taboo. The setting provides a unique coming-of-sexual-age scenario for David who sees this world very close to him.
David’s situation is a familiar one but his pressures are amplified by his heritage. The film captures that period of growing up when one begins to understand that the world isn’t what it was thought to be and one defines himself from some power within.