3 small chunks of film criticism for US filmmaker Andrew Ahn.
He is definitely a new face in the US cinema, but in more ways than one, Andrew Ahn still reminds us of a deeply humanist cinema. Ang Lee first comes to mind (James Schamus was a producer in his second feature 'Driveways'; yet, the LA-raised Korean-American filmmaker goes beyond cultural understanding semantics to introduce unrest and an equal amount of angst in his characters; all of those seem to fight for identity, yet they also silently observe their surroundings and have to learn to adapt. They all tend to sidestep the big questions, but they are going to face them in their small surroundings anyways, one way or the other.
His feature films, in chronological order:
Spa Night (2016)
A young Korean-American man works to reconcile his obligations to his struggling immigrant family with his burgeoning sexual desires in the underground world of gay hookups at Korean spas in Los Angeles.
Liked the silent small tragedy unfolding in front of the character's own eyes. Spa Night is still a sort of meditative film, and it's not about coming out, but about your environment getting you even more into the closet. Character development and situations are readily believable, and the acting by Joe Seo is gripping.
A lonely boy goes with his mother to help clean out his late aunt's house and forms an unlikely friendship with the neighbor who is a war veteran.
A film where the small-scale form and tone really justify the inherent sadness of moving on; it's a 3-way exercise, with all characters occupying a sentimental space in the film's neighborhood surroundings. Negotiations between past and present, old and young, learning and unlearning are really the bread-and-butter of this confident, humanistic film
Fire Island (2022)
A group of queer best friends gather in the Fire Island Pines for their annual week of love and laughter, but when a sudden change of events jeopardizes their summer in gay paradise, their bonds as a chosen family are pushed to the limit.
Not sure how proud Jane Austen would be about it (the script by writer and main character by Joel Kim Booster is a gay recreation of 'Pride and Prejudice'); yet 'Fire Island' does a good job of being a gay extravaganza with the soul in all the right places. It is fresh, even if the situations are still familiar and the themes of class etc., and development are what you expect them to be. A fine summer take on love, sex, and the social space in between.