Blessed with an abundance of Art Deco architecture and excellent access to mass transit, Koreatown is one of the hottest and most densely populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Though it endured the 1992 riots, “With the influence of three generations of Korean and Latino immigrants, these once-mean streets have become a picturesque and prosperous ‘Blade Runner’-ish warren of ethnic culinary hot spots imbued with an East-meets-West sense of fun,” gushed a 2015 New York Times travel feature.
It’s the setting for this week’s episode of Falling for Angels, a new series that explores intersectionality and gay love in Los Angeles.
I hasten to call the opening scene depicting an app-spurred hookup “refreshingly honest” because there aren’t many popular depictions of this activity to begin with. It is neither intimate nor glamorous, but it is immediate, hot and, initially, relatively anonymous. One partner will not let the other kiss him. “Did it get messy?” the bottom asks, spurred by the top’s post-release reaction. No: The condom broke. “You have nothing to worry about,” says the top. “I’m clean.” A pause, then, “The Cedars–Sinai emergency room has PEP. I’ll call you an Uber.” The top offers to accompany the bottom, who is apparently not on PrEP. The bottom declines his offer and leaves.
In out, in out.
Except Kevin (Ty Chen) left his keys with Gino (Dale Song). They meet at a karaoke bar to hand them over, and Gino convinces Kevin, fresh from the hospital and nervous, to have a drink on him. It turns out that Kevin has stumbled into a meeting of Gino’s monthly “Korean adoptee support group” and that Gino is set to leave L.A. in six hours to find his birth parents in Seoul. Kevin, a Taiwanese-American, keeps obtusely mentioning the novelty of him hanging out in an all-Asian environment.
This is the episode’s crux. Gino sought out a Korean-American community to connect with his racial identity. Writer Steven J. Kung based the episode on the time he spent walking Koreatown’s streets with an adopted friend who did just this: “He played lacrosse. He grew up in Boston and has that accent. When he went to L.A., he felt like he wanted to get in touch with Korean culture, and the way he accomplished that was going into Koreatown and just being.”
Kevin, on the other hand, was raised in an all-white neighborhood and, as a result of being bullied, minimized his racial identity. He continues to do so, but he speaks Mandarin, a result of having parents who enrolled him in Chinese school, and visits Taiwan with them every few years. “I never had that,” says Gino. “It started turning into this aching pit.”
This is a meditation on how gay Asian men live in the United States. Gino won’t kiss for fear of attachment or doesn’t send face pics, but who’s to say Kevin would have come over had he known his trade was Asian? The bit of tit-for-tat reading the men do of each other is impeccably written and acted. There is much to be said about racist anti-Asian sentiment among gay men — who among us has not seen a Grindr profile bluntly stating, “No fems, no fats, no Asians”? Even though Gino and Kevin live out their racial heritage differently, this is reality every time an app is opened.
Falling for Angels is a show about queer people of color living in the whiteness-idealizing LGBT community in a multi-ethnic city. The series is produced in cooperation with Pride Media, this publication's corporate owner. Its half-hour run time and anthology structure encourages impressionistic storytelling, and the plots are nothing new. What is new and important is that the characters are queer men of color living out situations that only queer men of color experience — experiences that can alternatively wound, bring joy, or inspire understanding. Gino speaks of learning to love himself when he looked into the eyes of his first Asian boyfriend — they looked like his own. “Well, now you know why I wanted to kiss you,” replies Kevin.
“One of the reasons I was really interested in this script is because it conveys Asian American men as attractive — not only to other races but to each other,” said director Steven Liang.
Ultimately, this episode reminds us of one of the better things that can result from a one-off hookup: A genuine connection, however brief. A reminder that you are not alone. Healing.