A few years back, out filmmaker Todd Haynes paid a well-received tribute to the films of Douglas Sirk with his Far from Heaven. Sirk was known for his soapy stories and glossy style, exemplified by such 1950's productions as Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life. Haynes created a picture- and style-perfect replica but with a contemporary, overtly gay sensibility, with Dennis Quaid playing the closeted gay husband of oblivious housewife Julianne Moore.
South Korean writer-director Leesong Hee-il has gone Sirk and Haynes one better with his No Regret. This excellent drama was actually filmed before Brokeback Mountain and the gay-themed The King and the Clown became enormous hits in South Korea and made GLBT topics more palatable there. Now recognized as the first true gay film in Korean Cinema, it is finally being released stateside this Friday in Los Angeles and New York by here! Films/Regent Releasing.
No Regret is, according to production notes, "plotted in a style similar to what has become known as 'hostess movies'--which deal with ambitious young women who come to the big city of Seoul only to end up working as prostitutes." Here, attractive male orphan Sumin (a great performance by straight actor Lee Young-hoon) moves to Seoul immediately following his 18th birthday and mandatory ejection from the orphanage. After losing menial jobs in a factory and restaurant due to his quick temper, he is hired as an exotic dancer at an underground gay club.
Sumin attracts the attention of many, but no one is more smitten by him than Jaemin (popular Korean television actor Lee Han). The son of a Korean conglomerate's wealthy vice-president, Jaemin is secretly gay and engaged to a woman. His falling for Sumin creates all manner of personal and public drama.
Much of No Regret, in true Sirk style, has the main characters denying and/or dancing around their true motivations and feelings. There is also considerable critique of Korean social and class distinctions, which is in keeping with the Sirk tradition. Indeed, director Hee-il is quoted regarding the inspiration behind his film, "Through the love of two men, I wanted to explore the themes of desire and class."
Fortunately, No Regret doesn't end as tragically as many of Sirk's melodramas did. Full of lovely, intimate moments between its various players and providing a unique travelogue of modern South Korea, I recommend No Regret to any adults, GLBT or otherwise, in the mood for a timeless romance.
Watch the No Regret trailer here.
UPDATE: No Regret is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.