First gay feature by an openly “out” South Korean filmmaker, “No Regret” is a schematically plotted but otherwise maturely written drama that doesn’t bang the audience over the head with any pioneering bravado. Marbled with both touching and funny moments, and intensely Korean during its final (violent) reels, this could have small legs beyond the usual gay-fest ghetto in the hands of savvy distribs. Though lensed on HD, its lack of any “underground” feel is a further bonus. In conservative South Korea, local B.O. last November was a tiny 40,000 admissions.
Leaving a pretty countryside orphanage after a love affair with another young guy there, Lee Su-min (Lee Yeong-hun) is next seen working on a dreary production line at a Seoul factory, where he shares digs with an aggressively heterosexual workmate. At nights, he works as a driver for hire, during which time he ferries home the drunken Song Jae-min (Lee Han), who makes a tentative gay approach that Lee rejects.
Song turns out to be the son of the factory’s CEO and, when Lee is among a batch of lay-offs, Song offers to spare him — an offer which Lee again rejects. Drifting from job to job, Lee ends up as a lap-dancer in a gay club, owned by a hard-assed gangster type dubbed “Madame” (Jeong Seung-gil, in pic’s funniest perf).
One night, Song turns up at the club, and Lee reluctantly services him but tells Song he’ll kill him if he ever comes round again. Story trajectory then broadens to include Song’s private life: He’s due to be married, under pressure from his parents, and is getting major cold feet.
As Song continues to seek out Lee at the club, despite the latter’s warning, the two slowly develop a relationship in which the needy emotional party slowly changes from Song to Lee, and class differences always simmer beneath the surface. Ending, which goes on a reel too long, has a blackly comic touch amid the violence.
Two main characters are too conveniently schematic (the poor, uneducated orphan and the rich, educated businessman), and Song’s predicament and angst are formulaic; but in many other respects pic avoids cliches and labels. Working atmosphere at the club is shown in a practical, unvarnished way — even down to Madame’s prejudice against employing gays because they tend to go off with clients (i.e. bad for biz). Even that prejudice feeds into pic’s main theme of the danger of falling in love, which here almost always ends tragically.
Perfs, too, are largely believable, with the two leads well cast, especially Lee as the orphan, used to fighting his way through life. (Thesp was also the lead in helmer Leesong Hee-il’s short, “Good Romance,” of which “No Regret” is “an expanded version,” per Leesong.) Technically, pic has a smooth look way above its evident low budget. Handful of sex scenes are graphic but with no genitalia on display.