The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
TRAGIC TALE. Hee-il Leesongís debut feature No Regret explores gay subculture and class in Seoul, South Korea. The film, featuring Young-hoon Lee as Sumin (top) and Han Lee as Jaemin, opens at Living Room Theaters on Friday, September 12. (Photo courtesy of Regent Releasing)
From The Asian Reporter, V18, #36 (September 9, 2008), page 15.
Tragic tale of love, betrayal in Koreaís gay underground
Directed by Hee-il Leesong
Produced by Hye-yeun Shin and Peter Kim
Distributed by Regent Releasing
By Toni Tabora-Roberts
No Regret is the debut feature of director Hee-il Leesong, who has made several significant shorts including a contribution to Three Queer Stories at Bogil Island, an omnibus film project called the Camellia Project which featured the work of three Korean directors.
With No Regret, Hee-il Leesong does a nice job of portraying the struggles of being gay and closeted in a society where class, education, and wealth determine standing. The film is slow-moving at times and understated, employing very little dialogue with lots of longing looks against a rough urban backdrop.
The opening of the film finds the good-looking Sumin (Young-hoo Lee) in an idyllic country setting. He is soon sent away from the orphanage where heís grown up because heís outgrown the program. The innocence of his youth quickly turns gritty as Sumin is forced to the city to find work.
Sumin works odd jobs in order to save up for school. It is on one of these jobs, as an on-call limo driver, that he first meets Jaemin (Han Lee). While Sumin is an orphan with no money, Jaemin is wealthy, well-educated, and has a family with high social standing. Itís clear after this first meeting that Jaemin and Sumin are attracted to each other.
After losing job after job, Sumin reluctantly begins working at a gay host bar on the suggestion of a friend who thinks itís just a karaoke bar. At first heís hesitant about the work, but as the money starts rolling in he finds a decent apartment and even gets a cute, fluffy dog.
The club, called "X Large," is what you might expect from a gay host club ó hunky young men in fancy suits (or half naked) singing karaoke, drinking expensive booze, partying with older johns. Their effeminate manager (who they call Madam) runs a tight ship, but has a heart. Gay Madam with a heart of gold.
Then begins the downfall. The handsome Jaemin enters Suminís life again after finding him at the club. For a while, Jaemin aggressively pursues Sumin (bordering on stalking), with Sumin rejecting him at every turn.
In the heat of yet another very sensual, heartbreaking rejection of Jaemin, Sumin tells him, "Youíre rich, you can have all the fun you want, but I canít." In that moment it seems both complicated and simple. It becomes clear after some subtle and some more violent interactions that both Jaemin and Sumin are undeniably drawn to each other despite their class differences and the societal expectations of them. But, also, Sumin rejects Jaemin because heís afraid of getting hurt.
After some drama, Sumin and Jaemin finally give in to their feelings and enjoy a short period of consummate happiness. They reveal to each other the self-hate they have both grown to bear, from Jaeminís family pressure to get married (yes, to a woman) and take over the family business to Suminís deep understanding of what itís like to be alone and destitute.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon doesnít last long and their worlds come crashing in to tear them apart.
What I appreciate about the film is the balance Leesong finds between commenting on the taboos of gay sexuality and exploring the subtleties and emotions of being in love. In the end, itís a love story between two people who probably should have never found each other.
The performances by Young-hoo Lee and Han Lee seem staid at first, but they grew on me as the story unfolded. They portray characters who have cloaked themselves constantly in society, not revealing who they really want to be. While I wasnít swept away, after viewing the film in its entirety the performances felt real and appropriate.
No Regret is worth a look. It screens beginning September 12 at Living Room Theaters, located at 341 S.W. Tenth Avenue in Portland. For showtimes, call (971) 222-2010 or visit <www.livingroomtheaters.com>. To learn more, visit <www.noregret-themovie.com>.