It can be tough for the discriminating viewer to sort through the hundreds of “Boys’ Love” (BL) dramas flooding out of Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea.
Where is the truly good stuff?
At the moment, global fans of the genre are clearly gravitating toward Thailand’s five-episode, six-hour “I Told Sunset About You” (“Plae Rak Chan Duai Chai Thoe”), praising it as among the best of the bunch over the past year. As news of a 2021 sequel spreads—it was scheduled for March but has been delayed by the pandemic—now is a good time to take a look to see what all the fuss is about.
Directed by Naruebet Kuno and shot on the scenic streets of Phuket’s Old Town, “Sunset” explores the lives of two high school seniors whose slow-burning attraction to each other is fraught with the kind of confusion, mixed signals, and unspoken feelings that will feel completely and painfully familiar to any gay person who was ever an anxious closeted teenager.
Though the friendship of Teh (Putthipong “Billkin” Assaratanakul) and Oh-aew (Krit “PP” Amnuaydechkorn) began when they were just 13, a rivalry over the lead role in a school play drove them apart, and they don’t reconnect until five years later, when they attend the same Chinese language cram school to prep for university exams.
Their shared goal: to get into a top Bangkok performing arts program. Teh has already mastered Chinese, so he offers to tutor Oh-aew, and the more time they spend together, the more intense the attraction becomes.
But all goes unsaid. Teh has one foot firmly in the closet, offering occasional kisses to his unsuspecting but increasingly exasperated girlfriend. While Oh-aew confesses his same-sex orientation to Teh, he directs his desires at another friend at first, which naturally drives Teh into fits of jealousy that he barely understands and certainly can’t communicate.
No matter how many staring contests, knee touches, or back rubs Oh-aew orchestrates, he can’t get Teh to admit what they both know to be the truth, and it’s excruciating for everyone involved.
What sets “Sunset” apart from dozens of other BL dramas that also explore forbidden or unrequited gay love is its all-around high quality, thoughtful script, and top-notch production values.
The two leads are age-appropriate (how refreshing!), yet they are real pros, acting as much with their eyes as with their words. When Teh bawls straight into the camera, we can’t help but bawl right along with him because we’ve been there, too.
The gauzy cinematography, which bathes everything with a warm sunset glow, adds melancholy and lends the story a moody timelessness. In the background, a lilting soundtrack heavy on piano and violin is punctuated with six original songs, some of which are sung by the actors themselves.
As Teh and Oh-aew sit on the beach and ponder their dilemma in front of another sunset, it’s impossible not to be completely sucked in. How is this going to turn out?
In the upcoming part 2, Teh and Oh-aew will head off to Bangkok, where adventure and conflict surely await. In the meantime, fans can go deeper by watching a multi-part documentary about the show’s production or even order some merch.
“I Told Sunset About You” is generally available outside Thailand via Vimeo streaming rental.
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