Tuesday, 8 October 2013

No Regret (2006) - ★★★★

Director: Hee-il Leesong
Writer: Hee-il Leesong
Stars: Nam-gil Kim, Young-hoon Lee, Seung-kil Jeong

Hailed by many as the 'first LGBT film of South Korea,' No Regret is an amateur, or 'raw' story of a young homosexual man that wants nothing more than to find a way out of his lower class life. It's very well made, although it was clearly shot on a small budget. The acting is fantastic, the cinematography is outstanding, and the music is soothing and beautiful. Some of the sequences are truly masterful, and its long running time just flies by quickly. Its shortcomings mainly deal with the coldness of the main character, who is pretty hard to connect with. I could understand his actions, motives, and feel sorry for his situations, but I could never truly like him. That doesn't make this a bad movie, because it's FAR from a bad film. It's a great film with such an important subject, making it a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in LGBT or Korean cinema.

Sumin (Nam-gil Kim) is an orphaned, quiet, determined young man that works many jobs to earn his way out of being poor. He struggles with the hard life, and ends up getting fired from his factory job due to redundancy cuts. This leads to him working at an upmarket boy-brothel, where he sells his body for good money. However, a young businessmen fell in love with him long before he started working there. Sumin's life gets very complicated as he deals with his feelings for the young businessman, who wants nothing more than to have a relationship with him.

I love the fact that it seems so 'low budget.' You can hear the cars in the background as two of the characters talk, or the clattering of footsteps of unidentified people off-camera. You can hear the birds tweeting and doors slamming, which have nothing to do with what is on screen. Yet, it makes the whole thing feel more authentic, because that's how life really is. The world doesn't stop for our conversations, it doesn't go quiet so that what we say has a larger impact. So I call No Regret a 'raw' film, because of the way every scene feels less superficial than most other films.

"Just give me a second. Let me linger for just a moment." That is such a beautiful line. Sumin said that after being faced with the harsh reality that prostitution isn't exactly the beautiful life he envisioned for himself. I'm just so surprised at how certain aspects of the film are so masterful. I think it's important to try to understand the character of Sumin, rather than just see where he ends up. He lived in an orphanage until he was 18, where I assume he dreamt of earning lots of money, having a better life. It's really hard for him to achieve his goals when working in a factory, or as a dishwasher, or as a driver. I guess he's just unfulfilled and still a poor young man. Although we don't hear his thoughts, it's easy to see why he makes certain choices. It's an interesting character, but one that could have done with more development and less solemnity. Overall, I found the performances by the two leads to be absolutely remarkable. They are brilliant at expression, and they fully inhabited the characters they were playing. It was some really outstanding acting.

The most interesting part of the film for me was seeing the world of male prostitution. A girl from South Korea once told me that they "don't have gays," in her country. Obviously they do, but it's just not a common thing to see. It's not really accepted in the mainstream. Here we catch a glimpse of the underground gay scene, where rich men pay to have other men dance for them and whatnot. It shows a side of South Korea that we never get to see, which is what makes this a special film.

One of the only reductive things about this film is the way it concocts a sort of upper and lower-class romance angle. We can sense a conflict, a romantic passion looming between the rich young man and the poor man. I wasn't thrilled with that storyline, because I found Sumin's life to be interesting enough to sustain the movie. Then again, there were moments during this romance that I felt some strong emotions. The desperation of one to find the other, the inner-conflict one must feel about their sexuality, and the hopelessness of the relationship. I guess you could say that the effective way they presented the characters is what made the romance-angle work in the end.

While the romance did sizzle at the start, it really went downhill as the predictable drama began. It's cool that they've got a conflict over sexuality between Jae-min and his family (something that many LGBT people can relate to). It's cool that they've got a complicated romance. However, it's not very nice when the viewer is forced to sit and wait for something to happen when they already know what will happen. We could see these troubles coming from a mile away, and time moves ever so slowly when you're waiting for the troubles to pass. It's the low-point of the film, because it's just too long and ineffective.

With about 25 minutes to go, the film takes a sudden turn. It becomes something entirely different to what we've become accustomed to over the first hour and a half. My heart was racing, and my brain wouldn't stop asking "Why?" Even though it was thrilling, I lost that feeling of enjoyment. It gets major brownie points for taking a completely unpredictable direction... but it loses points for taking us there without sufficient reason. Like I said, it was a sudden turn. While I didn't 'love' the direction the movie went in, it turned out to have one of the weirdest endings I've ever seen. An ending that I happened to love.

All in all, No Regret is actually one of the best LGBT films I've ever seen. Being the 'first' gay South-Korean film, I think it deserves many accolades. It's a unique and very well made film. I loved the way it pushed boundaries and forces the viewer to look at another side of South Korea, a side that exists and is shunned away. It may not be perfect, but it's an absolutely riveting cinematic experience. I hardly ever write huge reviews on movies, but No Regret sparked a passion inside of me to write one.

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