Reminisce Your First Love and First Heartbreak in ‘Chul-Soo’

Chul-soo

“I have liked you for a while now,” starts Chul-soo, a ruddy-cheeked twelve-year-old boy who seems to be confessing to someone.

Chul-soo says that he waited for the other person in school all the time and even ate spicy rice cakes even when he can’t actually eat spicy food. He says he sees her face every night before he goes to sleep and thinks about her as soon as they wake up. “I like you,” he confesses drily. The girl happily answers that she likes him too. 

How cute, except it turns out that they were only practicing reading lines in an acting training course. Their trainer sighs and asks Chul-soo how the experience was, and whether he was nervous. Chul-soo says he doesn’t really know. The teacher then asks everybody else if it seemed like they had a connection. The kids say it seemed like they didn’t like each other. The trainer agrees and lectures them that acting is supposed to make the audience believe that there is a connection even when there isn’t. He tells him that he doesn’t feel love or any emotion for that matter when Chul-soo looks at the girl, Young-hee.

Chul-soo

The teacher then asks Chul-soo to look at how pretty Young-hee is. Chul-soo just looks away as the teacher drones on about how if it were him, his heart would be fluttering. The kids seem to agree. She is a pretty girl. The teacher then tells him an important lesson. In order to grow, there must be suffering. Chul-soo looks away and directs his attention to another classmate, Soo-hyun.

Later on, we see Chul-soo hear the teacher tell his mom that while Chul-soo is doing great, he seems to struggle to act with girls. Mom thinks it’s because he’s still young. Teacher agrees. Chul-soo scratches at a blooming mark on his neck.

Chul-soo’s eavesdropping gets halted when Young-hee calls him and urges him back to the training room. She hands him a box of chocolates and a letter, all pink and feminine, and Chul-soo accepts them apprehensively. Chul-soo scratches his neck again.

Young-hee asks Chul-soo if he doesn’t like her. But before Chul-soo could answer, Soo-hyun barges into the room and instantly teases them. Chul-soo vehemently denies it and promptly runs off from the training room. Soo-hyun follows him.

Outside, Soo-hyun is seen snacking on the chocolates that Young-hee gave to Chul-soo. Soo-hyun asks Chul-soo if Young-hee truly didn’t confess earlier. Chul-soo says not really, and he’s right, she hasn’t really confessed just yet. 

Soo-hyun asks if he doesn’t like her when she’s so pretty, no, not just pretty, but the prettiest in their school. Soo-hyun then lectures him that maybe it’s because Chul-soo is still young but when a girl asks you out, you just say yes and try things out. Boy, you are also a kid! Soo-hyun proceeds to say they’re already twelve and when they’re much older, they’re going to have a harder time meeting people. Hilarious!

Soo-hyun then teases him that he’s so much more popular than expected and ruffles Chul-soo’s hair. It’s a moment that is terribly new to Chul-soo and he likes it. Soo-hyun then leans close to him and notices a greenish emboss on Chul-soo’s neck. It looks like a bug bite and Soo-hyun asks about it. Their moment gets interrupted when Soo-hyun gets called to go home, leaving a smiling Chul-soo scratching again at his mark.

Watch Chul-soo on GagaOOLala.

Later on, when Chul-soo and his mom are walking home, Chul-soo recalls the tender moment he had with Soo-hyun earlier, uncaring of Mom’s bragging about him over the phone. Chul-soo tells Mom that he can’t stop thinking about this person and his heart flutters when he sees them, but why is that? Mom says that’s what usually happens when you start liking someone, that you miss and think about them all the time. Mom clocks him and says he’s infatuated. She connects it to the scene he did with Young-hee that day and gleefully claims that he’s all grown up now. Mom thinks it’s Young-hee and urges Chul-soo to talk some more but Chul-soo just asks her to buy him some chocolates.

Later that night, Mom gloats over the phone about how Chul-soo finally has a crush on someone and attempts to peek at the love letter Chul-soo is writing. She gets shooed away and ends up turning on the TV. The screen shows two men in what seems to be a gay wedding and Mom comments that she doesn’t understand why two guys are marrying each other. Chul-soo picks up on it and asks if boys aren’t allowed to like each other. Mom says they can, but not in that context because it’s different. Chul-soo asks what’s different when he also likes Soo-hyun. (Ha! Take that, Mom!)

Chul-soo

Mom is stupefied at first and then laughs. She says of course he can like Soo-hyun as a friend. Those two men are gay, she says, looks at Chul-soo’s innocent face, and then stops. Mom laughingly says he can learn about it later. Mom then notices Chul-soo’s mark on his neck and applies a patch on it. She says he should stay friends with Soo-hyun. Chul-soo just scratches his neck and continues watching the two men on the TV, clearly enjoying the loving moments between the gay men.

The next day at the training center, all the girls are away so the Teacher asks Soo-hyun to take Young-hee’s place and recreate Chul-soo’s confession scene. Chul-soo seems excited but the other boys snicker at the thought of boys confessing to each other. The teacher shushes them and tells Chul-soo to just think of Soo-hyun as a pretty girl. He doesn’t really need to, but thanks, Teacher.

As soon as the Teacher asks them to start, Chul-soo gets visibly nervous.  

“I have liked you for a while now,” starts Chul-soo again. But when the lines start coming out, they feel more truthful and convincing, and that’s because Chul-soo actually feels it to be true this time around. And when it’s Soo-hyun’s turn to say that he likes him back, Chul-soo smiles brightly and ends up rushing to embrace Soo-hyun.

The teacher breaks the moment and tells Chul-soo they did a good job delivering the necessary emotions. The kids cheer but Chul-soo doesn’t break apart from the embrace. Soo-hyun looks uncomfortable.

Later, the Teacher tells Mom about how Chul-soo seems to be practicing a lot and they’re both ecstatic about his progress. Chul-soo doesn’t seem to care and is still on cloud nine. Chul-soo scratches his mark and calls Soo-hyun back to the training room.

The scene then mirrors Young-hee’s confession except this time, it’s Chul-soo who’s about to confess. He hands Soo-hyun his letter and a box of chocolates. But when Chul-soo’s about to say his feelings out loud, the other kids burst into the room and snatch his letter from Soo-hyun. Together, they read the letter and tease that the hug earlier must have been true. They call Soo-hyun and Chul-soo ‘homos’ and jeer at Soo-hyun who’s trying to snatch back Chul-soo’s letter. When he finally gets it back, Soo-hyun denies it and says they’re just practicing again, then runs off from the training room. Oh, no.

Later, on their way back home, Chul-soo finds the box of chocolates he gave Soo-hyun and his love letter torn to pieces in the trash. Mom asks what’s wrong and Chul-soo bursts into tears. Is he not supposed to confess his feelings to people he likes, Chul-soo asks. He just wanted to tell his true feelings, but why is that so wrong, he tearfully says. Mom comforts him with a hug.

The next day, Chul-soo lingers in the door at the training center. He rips off his bandage and we see that he doesn’t have the mark anymore. He enters the room and meets Soo-hyun’s eyes.  The teacher calls him and Young-hee again to rehearse the confession scene for the last time. Chul-soo starts again.

“I have liked you for a while now,” Chul-soo says yet again. This time with a much different emotion, more raw, more aching. Chul-soo says he sees her face every night before he goes to sleep and thinks about her as soon as they wake up. “I like you,” he confesses. He hugs Young-hee and the kids cheer at their performance. The view shifts to Soo-hyun’s reflection in the mirror and it is revealed that Chul-soo was actually confessing to Soo-hyun through the mirror, something that he failed to do earlier. The screen fades to black.

Writer’s thoughts

Chul-soo is equally sweet and heart-wrenching in its honest depiction of what it means to experience your first love as a queer kid. It’s a universal experience to confess to your crush for the first time, but it’s uniquely queer to experience that eye-opening and reality-shattering moment of being ridiculed by others for expressing your feelings to someone of the same sex. 

The parallelism of Chul-soo being in an acting class is not lost on queer viewers as it symbolizes two things in my opinion– one, being that it depicts how young queer people are expected to act according to the norm, and two, how queer kids can only freely express themselves under the guise of acting and pretending.

A lot of viewers must also be wondering about the significance of the green mark, which to me, is a cute representation of, well, a love bug. Chul-soo was bitten with it when he realized his crush on Soo-hyun and towards the end, when he felt the pain of his first heartbreak, Chul-soo was free of it. This also circles back to what the teacher said in the first scene. In order to grow, one must suffer. And Chul-soo learned to grow out of his first heartache.

The kids were obviously amazing in the short film but Nam Hyeon Joong as Chul-soo really delivered an honest and candid performance on how it feels to experience the nuances, the beauty, and the pain of a queer kid’s first love and first heartbreak. Ultimately, Chul-soo’s words on why he should have to hide his feelings for someone he likes are incredibly heart-wrenching and is sure to continue to ring in the viewers’ minds for days. 

Watch Chul-soo on GagaOOLala.

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