If You Liked 'Fire Island,' Check Out Director Andrew Ahn's Other Films

by Nathan Pugh

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 8, 2022

A scene from "Fire Island," left, and a scene from "Driveways," upper right, and a photo of Andrew Ahn on the set of "Fire Island," bottom right.
A scene from "Fire Island," left, and a scene from "Driveways," upper right, and a photo of Andrew Ahn on the set of "Fire Island," bottom right.  

The new gay romcom "Fire Island" hit Hulu on Friday. An adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," the film is set in the titular gay enclave. It's written by and — and stars — comedian Joel Kim Booster alongside a cast of gay Asian American actors. Viewers expecting a traditional comedy are in for a surprise: Yes, "Fire Island" is charming, but it also has aching scenes of queer intimacy, along with frank discussions about class, gender, and race.

"Fire Island" wouldn't have been possible without its out director, Andrew Ahn. Over the past decade he's slowly become one of the defining filmmakers to document the gay Asian American experience. He's also part of a new generation of independent writer-directors, including Isabel Sandoval, Lulu Wang, Lee Isaac Chung, and Kogonada, who all bring a gentle, naturalistic approach to telling deeply personal stories about contemporary Asian Americans.

With "Fire Island" becoming Ahn's most visible film of his career, it's a great time to check out the rest of his movies.

Here's a complete list of Ahn films that are available to watch online.

"Dol (First Birthday)" (2011)

An official selection for the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, Ahn's 11-minute short film "Dol (First Birthday)" established his unique ability to write and film quiet moments of the gay Asian American experience. It follows a gay Korean man Nick (Joshua Kwak) who attends his nephew's dol, a Korean tradition celebrating a baby's first birthday.

Nick decides not to bring his boyfriend Brian (Martin Lee) to the party, and Ahn ingeniously mines the personal conflict and societal repression surrounding this choice. Nick barely speaks in the film, but Kwak's eyes show a world of feeling and isolation. When Nick does speak, he keeps saying "it doesn't matter" as a deflection method. By focusing on silent moments of struggle, Ahn seems to be saying that Nick's life — and the joys and pain that come with it — does matter.

"Dol (First Birthday)" is currently streaming for free on Vimeo.

"Spa Night" (2016)

Ahn's first feature film follows David Cho (an astounding Joe Seo), a young Korean man in L.A. who's still living with his parents (Haerry Kim and Youn Ho Cho). When the Cho family restaurant goes under, David's parents scramble to stay afloat financially while still pushing David to apply to college. David eventually gets a job at a Korean spa, and he quickly discovers it's a gay cruising spot — just as he's coming into his own sexuality.

Ahn stages long stretches of "Spa Night" without dialogue or scoring because he trusts his queer audience will understand the unsaid dynamics of queer life. It's never exactly clear why David keeps working at the spa. Does he want to protect this space for other gay men? Is he curious about exploring his own attractions? Does he want to police sexuality the way he's been policed? Ahn's film thrives in these ambiguities. The movie is a reverie on growing up without having answers to so many questions.

"Spa Night" is streaming on Kanopy. It's available to rent on Apple iTunes.

"Driveways" (2019)

The first film Ahn directed without writing the screenplay, "Driveways" follows a Korean woman, Kathy (Hong Chau), and her 8-year-old son Cody (Lucas Jaye) as they travel to the suburbs to clean out a late family member's house. Living next door is the elderly Korean War vet Del (Brian Dennehy, luminous in his last film role). Over the course of the movie, Cody and Del slowly forge an unlikely friendship despite their loneliness.

"Driveways" is Ahn's only film thus far without any explicitly gay material. But Ahn still imbues the movie with a queer sensibility, tracing a journey from solitude to community for all the film's characters. For example, Cody looks askance at the other boys his age, is often called "sensitive" by others, and sexuality seems like an incoming threat in his life. Still, Cody is delicately nurtured by his mother and new surrogate grandfather-figure. It's a beautiful model for how to take care of any kid who feels different at a young age.

"Driveways" is streaming on Peacock, Kanopy, Tubi, Pluto and more. It's availed to rent on Apple iTunes.

"Fire Island" (2022)

"Fire Island" is definitely worth a watch for its summery, shimmering depiction of gayness. In the film, Noah (Joel Kim Booster) travels to Fire Island with his found family of gay friends (a large group whose standouts include Bowen Yang as Howie and Margaret Cho as Erin). However, Noah feels estranged from the wealthy and white gays on the island, particularly Will (Conrad Ricamora) who is awkward but seems judgmental.

The comedy definitely is a departure for Ahn — his previous films explored understated moments of reflection, and here he films exuberant moments of realization. What ties "Fire Island" to the rest of Ahn's filmography is the feeling of alienation in a space that's supposed to be supportive. Even in a gay haven, there's still a world of discrimination. Noah and Howie constantly struggle with how they're being perceived by others but they find a way through it because of their fierce friendship with one another. It's this journey towards self-acceptance alongside others (particularly amongst those of the same race) that makes the film particularly resonant for Asian Americans.

"Fire Island" is currently streaming on Hulu.