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No Regret
Year: 2006
Lee Young-Hoon and Lee Han
Director: Lee Song Hee-Il
  Cast: Lee Young-Hoon, Lee Han
  The Skinny: A powerful and emotionally rewarding gay romance that turns abruptly violent at the end. Up to that point, assuring direction and intense performances help make No Regret one of the best gay dramas to come out of Asia.
Kevin Ma:
     While watching the Korean indie film No Regret, I could not help making comparisons between it and Wong Kar-Wai's masterpiece Happy Together. I think the comparisons are entirely valid; both films deal with realistic male homosexual relationships, both often delve into the dark side of these relationships, both feature graphic sex scenes; and both would be just as compelling if the relationships depicted were heterosexual ones. Fortunately for No Regret, which managed to capture record audiences during its limited run, they are both also just as good.
     No Regret opens at a countryside orphanage that Su-Min (Lee Yeong-Hoon) is forced to leave upon reaching adulthood. Su-Min moves to Seoul, where he struggles to afford school and works two jobs, as an assembly-line worker during the day and as a private chauffeur at night. While he is openly gay, he takes no interest when customer Jae-Min (Lee Han) hits on him. Su-Min is fired from his job at the factory just as he finds out that Jae Min is also an executive there. Jae-Min tries to save Su-Min's job at the factory, but he quits out of pride anyway. Strapped for cash, Su-Min reluctantly becomes an escort at a gay bar, where he's warned by the head of the bar, Madame, that he doesn't like hiring gay men because they elope when they fall in love with customers. Luckily, Su-Min is so disillusioned that he's convinced that money is more important than love. Jae-Min eventually manages to track Su-Min down, and after Jae-Min's many advances (not to mention Su-Min's many rejections), they finally fall in love. However, real world circumstances will come to drive them apart, and violence ultimately threatens to plague their relationship.
     While Happy Together tells a messy story about the slow destruction of a relationship, No Regret uses a simpler love story structure: two people meet, fall in love, and fight. And as oxymoronic as it sounds, the film also possesses some clichés that one is used to seeing in a film with homosexual themes, such as Jae Min's fiancé and his family forcing him to get married. Yet, writer/director Leesong Hee-il, an openly gay man himself, manages to create convincing emotions throughout. This can be credited to the screenplay, which develops not just the two focal characters effectively, but also the supporting characters who will come to impact the plot. Although not all bases are covered, as Jae-Min's clichéd subplot still rings somewhat false, the screenplay manages to be strong enough that the audience is still involved even when the film takes an absurd turn at its finale - which is really the film's only noticeable flaw.
     Shot in digital, No Regret captures the shadowy world of gay prostitution using impressive handheld long takes and polished visuals, which are very rare in an indie production such as this. As in the works of Michael Mann, digital provides a better way to capture low-light environment, helping No Regret build a dark atmosphere that represent the sometimes-dangerous world Su-Min lives in. The film's look is supported by Leesong's strong direction and dependency on visual storytelling rather than verbal exposition. As polished as the visuals are, the storytelling remains gritty, and while the sex scenes are explicit, Leesong still presents them in a fairly tasteful fashion.
     No review of No Regret can be completed without mentioning the performances. As the conflicted Jae-Min, Lee Han expresses the dilemma that faces a closeted gay man with an equal dose of pain and conflict. However, the star of the show is Lee Yeong-Hoon, who also starred in Good Romance, a short film by Leesong that was eventually expanded into No Regret. Lee's intense performance effectively brings out the anger, the desperation and the courage of Su Min - the anger of being betrayed, the desperation of his situation, and the courage to fall in love. They may not be as seasoned as Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, but Lee Han and Lee Yeong-Hoon are definitely actors to watch out for in the future.
     While I mentioned that comparisons to Happy Together or even Brokeback Mountain are valid, it should be noted that No Regret is strong enough to stand on its own among the pantheon of great gay films. The direction is confident, the script is strong, the performances are intense, the emotions are credible and the film is easily as engaging as any heterosexual love story. The film may not be everyone's cup of tea based on the subject matter and its graphic depiction of sex, but anyone who's willing to take the plunge will find No Regret to be one the strongest and audaciously authentic indie films to come out of Asia in 2006. (Kevin Ma 2007)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC Limited Edition
Fantom Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Lanugage Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Commentary, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, etc.
  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen