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A verdant, picturesque summer idyll; two young boys frolic in a countryside lake in various states of undress. The affectionate contact between the lads clues us that they’re more than platonic friends. Once summer’s over, the responsibilities of the real world set in and Su-Min returns to his studies and the small Seoul flat he shares with super hetero player wannabe roommate, who knows which team Su-Min plays for and accepts him regardless, making playful threats to drag his friend to the nearest cathouse to cure Su-min of his boy-love proclivities.

Patching in work between classes and a full-time job, Su-min hires himself as a chauffeur and one call leads him to Jae-min, a handsome businessman who makes a deflected pass at the college student. The evening is not forgotten as Su-min is saved from the layoffs afflicting the bottling plant he works for by Jae-min, who happens to be the factory owner’s son.  Insulted, Su-min rashly quits his rescued post and attempts to make ends meet as a restaurant dishwasher. Overworked and underpaid, Su-min has hit the bottom of the financial barrel when he turns up to work as a “host” in a sleazy bar/brothel run by a hissy queen and inhabited by guys like gay-for-pay Jung-tae, who earns on his back (- and other places) to keep his girlfriend happy. The innocent orphan pushes aside his revulsion at having strange men paw him (- and much worse) and buries it in the piles of money he’s now able to earn. With a rooftop flat of his own and a poodle, all is well for the teenage hustler until the businessman from long ago drops in determined to connect with Su-min. Their trysts rough and unfeeling, Su-min treats the self-loathing, closeted Jae-min with all the abhorrence he seems to crave. Jae-min’s powerful, wealthy parents have pushed him into a marriage with a suitable young woman he does not love. His only release is in the arms of the young prostitute who is unnerved and angry when Jae-min stalks him obsessively at the club, stopping him from taking other johns. Against his better judgment, Su-min begins to return Jae-min’s feelings and dares to lower his guard against the lonely, besotted man from the right side of the tracks.

Once he accepts Jae-min, the two begin the happiest time of either of their lives, spending days on beaches far from the pressures of Seoul and nights whispering in each others’ arms. Su-min leaves his hosting duties at the gay brothel and is content to be Jae-min’s kept man. The only fly in the ointment is that minor issue of the fiancée that Jae-min has neglected to tell Su-min about. Jae-min’s hardnosed mother is aware of her son’s homosexuality, but that won’t stop her from threatening her only child with a public outing if she doesn’t get the advantageous wedding she’s been planning. Jae-min abandons his lover without a word; leaving the confused Su-min to turn up at Jae-min’s flat where he’s greeted by Jae-min’s betrothed and leaves with an invitation to their wedding. Once the miserable Jae-min turns up at Su-min’s flat, Su-min questions him about why he’s played him so badly and what their relationship meant. Was it because Su-min was poor? Was it because he was uneducated? Su-min offers to change everything about himself and be loyal forever if Jae-min will stay with him and Jae-min walks away wordlessly. The situation has reversed as Su-min becomes obsessed with his lost love. Bolstered by a public snub by Jae-min, Su-min takes a misguided vengeance for his broken heart that threatens to shatter them both.

Wonderful this. Truly rare and very special. Dark, unflinching and provocative, No Regret manages to transcend any preconceptions and reveals itself as a sweetly emotional romantic adult drama edged nicely with some droll comedy that anyone would adore. The gay elements of the piece are authentically and brilliantly rendered; No Regret features a variety of characters living different parts of the gay spectrum. Su-min is perfectly comfortable in his homosexuality and has love and support from friends, while Jae-min is forced to hide his nature and hates himself for his needs until he meets Su-min. The brothel keeper, Madame, is our resident queen with a catty remark meant to hide a sentimental heart. Adorable Ga-ram is the naïve country waif who turns up at the host bar blinded by the lights of the big city. Blithely happy to work in the brothel and in love with the thought of being in love, Ga-ram is like a younger, more optimistic version of Su-min and the older orphan takes the younger under his wing. The examination of gay life in Korea both out in the open and on the down-low - as in Jae-min’s case - and the placement of much of the story in the host bar are fascinating and ring true in any culture. No Regret’s wonderful cinematography does as much as any of the actors to capture the different elements of the film. The tawdry male brothel is never shot in more than half-light; shading the clandestine proceedings and shadowing the pathos of the men who use and often fall in love with the rent-boys. Bright, colour-saturated outdoor scenes highlight Su-min’s joyful moments with Jae-min and his friend and brothel brother, Ga-ram. Jae-min’s cold world away from Su-min is filmed in patrician sepia tones and under harsh fluorescent lights.

The cast is incredible. The two leads, Lee Young-hoon as Su-min and Lee Han as Jae-min have a heartbreaking chemistry. From the start, you’ll want to see them end up together. The sensitive portrayals of their characters, who have each lived lives of loss & regret in their own ways, make it impossible to dislike either one. No pain on the retinas that the each of the leads is exceedingly handsome and yaoi-rific. Both actors, particularly Lee Young-hoon, boldly handle the film’s graphic sexuality. Su-min’s first night in the brothels stripping down and doing an increasingly frenzied table dance for a customer hypnotically captures the disillusioned teen’s palpable humiliation and resignation. Brave stuff. Kim Dong Wook plays the sweet, bubbly Ga-ram, who’s like a hustler version of Pollyanna; puppy dog cute, he’s always happy and smiling and adores his mentor Su-min. A special mention to Jeong Seung-gil, whose brilliantly timed sidelong delivery provides much of the film’s comedy as the waspish, money-hungry Madame. Each of the characters in No Regret is written vividly and has a rich life onscreen and none of them, like the film they inhabit, are forgettable.

There is one sour note in No Regret; the lovelorn third act revenge Su-min exacts on Jae-min sends the film way further in melodrama territory than it ever needed to go. The butch act of payback is the campiest thing in the entire movie (- unless you count Madame’s slap-happy fighting style). Luckily, the rest of the film is so strong that your mental editor will allow you to use excise the distraction and get back to enjoying the rest of the picture.

Director Leesong Hee-il has made a brave and beautiful film that breaks boundaries not only by prominently portraying Asian sexuality, still a taboo subject, but also that between two men. What makes No Regret outstanding is its capturing a love story so true and aching and unforgettable, it crosses gender lines completely.

Go see it while you can.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

July 16th, 2008

 

PS: Beginning July 25th, No Regret is playing in New York at the Cinema Village and in Los Angeles at the Sunset 5 with additional theatres on the West coast in coming weeks. Visit the website for more info:

http://www.noregret-themovie.com/

 

 

 

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(Courtesy of   Regent Releasing)