Monday, August 25, 2008

Adam Hartzell on No Regret

Too busy to get much writing done lately, I've consoled myself by making some hopefully helpful improvements to my blogroll, finally adding links to more Frisco Bay film organizations and bloggers (where possible, the latter will be listed in order of most recent publication).

Even better, my buddy Adam Hartzell has offered up a new piece on a Korean film set to play Frisco Bay starting this weekend. Without any further ado, here's Adam:

My reception of a film can often be affected by where I see a film, especially when I see a film outside of the United States. And being that I’ve had many opportunities to travel to South Korea, seeing certain films in the urban spaces of Busan or Seoul has influenced my take on them. I don’t find it necessary to extract such 'outside' influences from my interpretations of films. I don’t watch films in isolation but in concert with my surroundings inside and outside the theatre, in communion with the time and place of the screening. But when a film I saw in one space enters another space, I find myself in a conundrum, aware that a film I loved seeing in Busan, South Korea might not be so vibrant in its effects here in San Francisco. This is the predicament I find myself in with No Regret, the first feature film from South Korea by an out Gay director, Leesong Hee-il.

No Regret follows the young adult beginnings of Su-he (Lee Young-hoon) as he leaves an orphanage for a factory job that he quits after choosing self-respect over getting-by. But then finding he does indeed need to get by, he ends up in a 'host bar' selling his body while trying to avoid selling his soul. The 'madam' of this host bar is reluctant to bring Su-he on since he’s found gay-identified employees find the emotional demands of the job more difficult to navigate. These complications become personal for Su-he when a lover from his past walks up in the club.

This is a film with an unapologetic Queer 'supertext' that would have been harshly censored in South Korea as recently as the early 1990’s. But the screening I attended in a multiplex at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2006 was packed. (No, that’s not a spelling mistake. The city transliterates its name with a 'B', whereas the festival retains the old 'P' transliteration.) All seats were occupied and even more butts were bumming seats from the steps inside the theatre. The young crowd was a hopeful sign of politics not to come, but already here, a possibly Gay-friendly politics that will lead to future political beefs marching in the streets of Seoul and elsewhere throughout the peninsula. The crowd’s excitement before the screening and uproarious applause after made me happy, despite the overly melodramatic ending.

Yet I worry more about the reception of No Regret in San Francisco. My experience of the political potential of the young Koreans filling the seats of this screening with a palpable energy and anticipation, then their resounding applause of appreciation during the credits, will never be severed from my feelings about No Regret, however flawed a film an 'objective' take without that experience might reveal. I was happy to find it playing at Frameline in 2007 and am even happier to see it picked up by Regent Releasing to screen at the Lumiere Theatre on August 29th. However, since San Francisco is an oasis of Queer films, No Regret could be accused of taking some turns that readers with well-dog-eared copies of The Celluloid Closet might find clichéd. The San Francisco viewer might find the ending in particular to be a bit overly melodramatic and guilty of self-loathing. I excuse the melodrama because South Korean cinema has a long melodramatic history, and such allows this Queer film to nestle up nicely with the history of genre in South Korean film. And as Guy Maddin asked us at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this year, give melodrama a chance, since it enables us to live within our dreams, often something we must suppress during the realities of our everyday. As for the self-loathing, I’d have to ruin the ending to provide my counter-interpretation.

In the end, I’m well aware that in spite of my fondness for No Regret, others might not find themselves smiling at the end of the film in the glow of the future and the hope of the present energized around them in the theatre as I did. Their experience can’t possibly be mine. I will respect how your time and place will affect your interpretation of No Regret when you go see it in San Francisco. But in sharing a little bit of my experience to take with you into yours, I hope you will find it night well spent.


  1. Have either of you seen Bangkok Love Story? I ask because of the positioning of No Regret as part of the tradition of melodramatic Korean films. While I have not seen many older Thai films, in comparison Bangkok Love Story still seems excessive in its sentimentality.

  2. I haven't seen it, Peter, and in fact have barely heard about it. Thanks for the heads up and the review. Interesting that you drop Brokeback Mountain, which was also accused from some quarters (and praised from some others) for its melodramatic aspects.