Disability and Sexuality Explored in ‘Love 100°C’

Love, 100℃

In a world where it almost feels illegal to exist as a minority, a young man with a disability gets to experience his first heartbreak and explore and express his sexuality. 

Love, 100°C’ starts off with a young, teenage boy sexually pleasuring himself as he looks at photos of him and another studly student. Moments later, we see the same boy, Min-soo (played by Kim Do-jin), and his brother, Kyeongsoo (played by Yun Se-hyun), outside their house on their way somewhere. His brother berates Min-soo for being a slowpoke and asks if he can’t hear him. Their mother, who was watching from the window, tells the brother off for speaking harshly to Min-soo. Mom shouts and asks Min-soo to take care of his brother. Min-soo does not respond, so Mom asks Kyeong-soo to call the attention of Min-soo. Min-soo, after all, is revealed to be deaf. When Min-soo turns to her, Mom tells him through sign language to enjoy his time at the public bath. Min-soo signs ok with a bright smile.

On the way to the bathhouse, Min-soo tries to get Kyeongsoo’s attention. Kyeongsoo stops fiddling with his phone and only now notices that Min-soo was wearing earphones. Kyeongsoo chastises him for it, saying he can’t even hear the music so he should just wear his hearing aid, which Min-soo eventually does. Immediately, we see the kind of relationship the two brothers have. Min-soo asks him to hurry up. Kyeongsoo talks back. Min-soo rebukes him for talking to him in such a way when he’s older. Kyeongsoo spits and glares at Min-soo saying he’s only a year older.  He doesn’t even act like an older brother, Kyeongsoo balefully says, before threatening Min-soo with physical violence. The tense atmosphere gets cut off when Kyeongsoo’s phone gets a notification and then he’s off with a woman, but not before threatening Min-soo not to tell their mother or else he’s dead.

Love, 100℃

In the bathhouse, we meet an unnamed and enthusiastic professional scrubber (played by Kwak Jaewon). (Note: In South Korea, public bathhouses have scrubbers who are paid to scrub dead skin cells and dirt from your bodies, yes, it’s a thing!) Scrubber notices Min-soo scrubbing away at his own skin and saunters to where he is. He comments that Min-soo came alone today and asks whether he was interested in getting scrubbed. Min-soo initially refuses and tells him he’s hearing impaired although he can understand people if they speak clearly and slowly. Scrubber apologizes for not realizing it, this time, speaking more carefully and animatedly. He tells Min-soo he’ll scrub him down really well to make up for his ignorance and Min-soo finally agrees. Scrubber whistles as prepares to do his job, tapping and clapping the rhythm so Min-soo can follow. Scrubber asks if he can hear the music. Min-soo says no, but he can feel it. It was probably the first time someone has tried to understand Min-soo and his relationship with music.

Watch ‘Love, 100°C’ on GagaOOLala.

Scrubber tells him they should try again, and together, they clap and move their bodies as Scrubber whistles and guides Min-soo. Moments later, when Min-soo’s lying down as Scrubber cleans him up, Min-soo’s eyes stray to Scrubber’s crotch. Min-soo’s eyes get bigger and he covers his own genitals that’s presumably starting to get excited. The scene then cuts to Min-soo getting orally pleasured by a scrubber in a more private area as other people go about their business, oblivious to what was happening between the two.

Love, 100℃

Back at home, Min-soo is clearly in an upbeat mood which Mom immediately notices. Min-soo brushes it off and says it’s nothing. His elated mood doesn’t last too long though, as Min-soo gets harassed at school by friends of the boy he was masturbating to in the opening. The boy initially watches the bullying but ultimately stops them from getting Min-soo naked but not before asking him to show his genitals sometime in the future. Min-soo is heartbroken and hides himself in a cubicle. He brings out a printed picture of him and the boy which we saw on his computer earlier. He tearfully tears the picture up, feeling betrayed by his crush’s previous actions.

Clearly upset, Min-soo goes back to the bathhouse and gets orally pleasured again by Scrubber. Their encounters awaken something inside Min-soo and he seems to can’t get enough of the satisfaction that it gives him.

Later on, we see the two brothers going out again, with Mom reminding Kyeongsoo not to run away like last time. Kyeongsoo promises not to since he wants to get a good rub down too. However, unlike last time, Min-soo tries to convince Kyeongsoo not to go and that he can scramble off if he wants to. He’s obviously trying to get some alone time with Scrubber without his brother getting in the way. Kyeongsoo seems determined to go though and just urges Min-soo to walk faster. They get interrupted by the girl Kyeongsoo ran off with earlier who tells him they have to talk. Kyeongsoo is annoyed and Min-soo sees this as an opening to go alone. He tells his brother they should talk which ends up annoying Kyeongsoo further. Kyeongsoo talks back but, for the first time, Min-soo fights back and smacks him in the head for talking that way to his older brother. Min-soo runs excitedly off while Kyeongsoo watches him in disbelief.

His mood quickly sours though when he notices people watching a ruckus. The commotion is revealed to be Scrubber getting punched and thrown around as an unknown man calls him a dirty homosexual. In the midst of getting beaten down, Scrubber and Min-soo’s eyes meet. Min-soo gulps in fear and runs out of the bathhouse into nowhere in particular, the man’s vile words echoing in the background, before he finally stops, crumples to the ground, and cries.

What a sobering, reality-shattering experience for someone so young to see someone like them get physically and verbally assaulted simply for existing. There are so many layers to this film, especially when put into context the fact that Min-soo is hearing impaired as well. He’s a minority twice and he has experienced the harsh realities of being exactly that both firsthand and secondhand through Scrubber, albeit it doesn’t hurt any less to feel the degree of just how difficult life is for someone like him. For Min-soo, the assault on Scrubber almost feels like a threat that says “You are not allowed to exist,” a sentiment that is not unfamiliar to the hearing-impaired character.

On the flip side, it must have been an exciting experience for Min-soo who got to experience and explore his sexuality with someone who respects him and treats him as an equal through the Scrubber. In the bathhouse, the steam room became his haven where he could be without having to consider his disability or sexuality. 

Kim Do-jin, who now goes by Kim Li-Hoo, is commendable in his portrayal of the bright and innocent Min-soo. Dubbed the first hearing-impaired film actor in South Korea, Kim Do-jin managed to capture the viewer’s hearts with his winsome, dorky, and effeminate personality, which made everybody sympathize with Min-soo in the end.

Director Kim Jho Gwang-soo, who is also openly gay and is now symbolically married to his partner, also managed to capture the nuances of what it feels like to be in Min-soo’s shoes. The director understood, through his own perspective as a homosexual person, the dangers and trials of what it’s like for someone who’s a minority, whether it be through a disability or one’s sexuality, to live in a society as rigid, collectivistic, and homophobic as South Korea. And despite the film being more than a decade older than today, things have barely changed for minorities, and reality remains a harsh and cruel one for them.

 

Watch ‘Love, 100°C’ on GagaOOLala.

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