Released in 2006, No Regret is considered a seminal film in South Korean gay cinema. Thankfully, it bypasses the growing pains of its American counterparts.
Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: ★★★.5
Su Min (Lee Yeong Hoon) is seemingly destined for a life on the margins. He is an orphan, gay, and without a post-secondary education. During one of his part-time jobs, delivering cars and their inebriated owners home, the client shows interest in him, but Su Min rebuffs his invitation. Shortly thereafter, Su Min is laid off from his factory job. The client reappears as Jae Min (Kim Nam Gil), the factory owner’s son who reverses the lay off decision. Su Min quits out of pride, but is soon swallowing it to work as an escort at a gay host bar. Jae Min tracks Su Min down and pursues him until Su Min finally relents to a relationship. They have a honeymoon period during which Su Min gives up working as an escort. However, Jae Min’s responsibilities as a chaebol son includes marrying a woman in order to have children. Jae Min breaks up with Su Min, provoking Su Min and a fellow escort to take drastic actions.
For a premise that could so easily have become soapy, director Leesong Hee Il decided instead to take a stark approach to his characters. From Jae Min’s stalker behaviour, to the seediness of the host bar, nothing feels maudlin. It is safe to say that no gay character assumes stereotypical mannerisms nor characteristics. There is explicit sex between the couple, and it feels real, not simulated nor awkward.
Lee Yeong Hoon is best when his character, Su Min has sold his dignity at the host bar. He perfectly conveys the desperation that drives him to dance nude on a table, coupled with an acceptance of the things he must do to survive. You can see the war of emotions on his face as he is receiving a blow job from a john, but there is no self loathing.
Kim Nam Gil is more one dimensional as the single minded Jae Min. It is never made clear what attracts Jae Min to Su Min, and makes him so persistent in the face of the younger man’s anger. One can only speculate that it is a case of opposites attract.
The movie takes an unfortunate turn into melodrama in the final act when a rejected Su Min takes revenge. His plans are so extreme that it is completely incongruous with the rest of the movie, and better suited to a soap opera.
It looks like the film is headed to the tragic ending that early American gay films tended to favour. I can confirm that no one dies, and there is hope in the end. This is not meant as a spoiler, but rather, something for viewers to look forward to.
However, even if the main couple fails to move you, No Regret is worth watching for its fascinating peek into a gay host bar in contemporary South Korea.