The symbols behind ‘I TOLD THE SUNSET ABOUT YOU’
Four symbols with Four meanings
‘I Told Sunset About You’ is a coming-of-age series that tells a story about two teenage boys with the biggest shift between graduating from high school and preparing for university examinations. Their friendship develops amid the intense competitive exam preparation. But what will they do when they find out that their feelings have developed to be something more than that? With all the decisions to be made and obstacles, will they be able to surpass it or hide it deep in their hearts forever? Surely, the series uses this age transition between teenagers and young adults to connect to audiences’ experiences which are about emotion, education, and gender. The story shows changes and connections that can relate to most of the audience experience by using all media and signifiers such as colours, clothing, sound, and acting to communicate to the audiences.
This is all the reason why we chose this series to write this article. We saw that this series consists of many creative ways in communication as to when you represent a well-organised piece of artwork reaching through the feeling, emotion, and memorable background of the audience. Although the story cannot represent every LGBTQ+, it can clearly describe an experience and emotion of a boy who was confused about his sexual orientation while other huge crises are coming. In our suggestion, “แปลรักฉันด้วยใจเธอ” or “I told the sunset about you” is one of the most eye-catching series coming of age showing the development of characters.
First of all, in this series, symbols were used to tell the story and represent the characters. The main symbol that can obviously be seen in the first episode is the use of colors and flowers to represent the character. “Red” is the color that represents Chinese culture as it is believed to bring luck and happiness which is also included in the decoration and the outfits of the main character’s family named “Tae”.
To provide more examples, the color of Tae’s dress code and prop he used are mostly blue which is different from his family which may represent his uniqueness in his gender.
Another main character is “Oheaw”; this character was represented as a red hibiscus and coconut. Oheaw’s symbol was seen by his outfits, props he used, and scent.
Lastly, the last character that was mainly seen for using color as a symbol is a girl called “Tarn”. She was represented as a purple hibiscus which was hidden in her underwear or purple color on her clothes. Another scene that shows the use of the color very clearly as a signifier is the scene where Tarn asked Tae to choose between a red or purple colour pencil since purple represents Tarn and red represents Oheaw. The colors and flowers were not the only signifiers that were used to define the character but also the meaning of the object was included.
The example can be illustrated through the name of the tv drama that Tae likes which is called “Krabi yey Jun” or “Sword that ridicules the moon” . It uses a sword to represent masculinity and the moon to represent femininity and emotion. The sword represents the masculinity side of Tae and it is what Tae perceives himself to be all the time. Tae is a character that represents a boy who grew up in a society where they were taught that a man can only pair up with a woman. Therefore, this has put a fixed mindset into Tae’s mind that same-sex love is a stigma. This can later be explained by the actions of Tae that rejected Ohaew despite his strong attraction towards his same-sex friend. The sword ; however, contradicts another side of him which is a moon. A moon represents femininity and emotions which is a side where Tae possesses, yet he subconsciously denies it because of his mindset about gender. Hence, his favourite tv drama, “sword that ridicules the moon” represents Tae in various ways as he is a sword (masculinity) that denies another side of himself which is a moon (femininity and emotions).
The series continually adds symbols and detail into every scene. In my opinion, one of the best scenes is in episode three where the scenes contain several signifiers such as colours that represent characters, hibiscus and an untraditional wedding. The first signifier is a hibiscus. The scene started with Tae and Oheaw walking along the beach and using red hibiscuses to put behind each other’s ear. The hibiscus that Tae put behind Ohaew’s ear is on the left side, which stands for a female protagonist. On the other hand, Ohaew put a hibiscus on the right side of Tae’s ear, which stands for male protagonists. The flowers that they give to each other surely show the development of both relationships. There were many meanings for the hibiscus such as being unfaithful to your panther in old Thai belief, being different and ostracised which refers to Thai folk tale. The flower also represents bisexuality as hibiscus contains both male and female in one flower.
After the following scene, Ohaew confessed to Tae that he likes him; however, this creates a huge confusion for Tae. Tae has a girl whom he’s flirting with named Tarn. However, after Tae met Ohaew again after the separation, he became confused about who he actually had feelings for. In my opinion, Tae knows that his affection toward Ohaew is very strong but he rejected it as it thinks it is a stigma to love a guy. However, for Ohaew, he is very honest to himself and his feeling and it is clear from the first place that he is gay so he is not scared to confess the love to Tae when he realised that his feelings have developed. This later shows through the scene where Ohaew calmly puts a hibiscus that represents himself into Tae’s hand. Tae neither received it nor threw it away. Thus, this scene signifies that Tae did not reject Ohaew’s confession but he did not also accept it. All of these symbols and acting can mean many things. The hibiscus also stands for a person that society rejects. The meaning of a hibiscus can also indicate the relationship between both character and their sexual orientation that could not be favoured by their family and society.
The background music also plays a role to create the mood and tone of the story after Ohaew confessed his feeling. The meaning of this song’s part refers to a person that came back to meet his lover but eventually, they cannot be together. The scene moves to another setting where Tae already changed his outfits to be red and green (Ohaew’s color) with the label of the word moon in Chinese on it. This emphasises the emotion of Tae that he has feelings for Ohaew and gradually accepts his gender and this forbidden love.
Another scene that stands out for using the symbol is in episode three. Tae and Ohaew were riding motorcycles and drinking coconut water which stands for purification. On the other hand, coconut is used in wedding ceremonies. They arrived at the Chinese shrine and it was closed. This refers to their relationship that is not normal in society, so they have to choose the entrance that has the ‘do not enter’ sign. The outfits worn by both characters resemble the wedding as the red color refers to the chinese auspicious color for the wedding. Ohaew wears red outfits that have a flower on them and it is similar to a Chinese bride.
Both of them kneel, light up incense, and make a wish which is the same as most Chinese auspicious traditions as weddings. The situation that repeats this untraditional wedding is when they walk out for the shrine; Tae said ‘My mom told me that on an important day, step your left foot before you left your house, good things will happen.’ The last evidence is the word moon on Tae’s shirt. As the moon has various meanings and some of them mean a new couple from the wedding which resemble an eternity of love.
In Thai tradition, after a wedding, they will have a room for a new couple to stay together in which the real purpose is to make love. We can see in the series that after the untraditional wedding, they have a scene showing Ohaew come to sleepover at Tae’s house and start some fore-playing. Even though it does not go as far as having sex, this clearly illustrate one of the steps in a traditional wedding. The scene did not show the definition of the symbolised colour and object directly but they neatly put it all in the detail to associate the story and create a connection between every single plot and scene in the story.
How it represents LGBTQ+?
Today, we will be analysing the symbols and signs in the series and how it uses to represent the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community.
In episode 4, the scene shows that Tae is trying to kiss Ohaew’s neck in the middle of Ohaew’s house. However, Ohaew slowly walks away from him, but at the same time, alluring Tae to follow him. This scene entails that Tae is absolutely in awe and is trapped completely into Ohaew’s seduction. The camera later planned to the picture where it discloses the traditional Chinese drawings, portraying man and woman in the same frame. The picture is about Confucious —the ancient eastern philosophy— that focuses on the family that consists of husband and wife and father, mother, and children. These all characterise the lives of heteronormativity, which excludes other types of family and love. The camera then passes through that picture and the scene later displays two protagonists standing under the stairs, which is in a hideaway angle. Both of them were hugging each other passionately, hinting that they can only show affection towards each other in the secret place where no one would see them. This scene represents homosexual couples as sometimes they would have to hide their sexual orientation in the society and express them secretly because it does not fit the traditions and what society sees as normal.
The succeeding scene is the scene where two of them were floating in the middle of the ocean. The water represents the family and society that have been shaping and fostering them throughout their life. However, floating in the water is like having a role in society and family. Although they may raise them to be who they are today, it may make them feel uneasy to hide their sexual orientation, just like how they have to hold their breath in order to float. Later, Ohaew said that if he is exhausted from holding his breath, he would just exhale and let himself drown. This scene can indicate that he would just reveal his true-self even though this action may cause him to be suppressed by the traditions, which can compare to letting himself drown under the water.
Later, the scene reveals the motion images where both of them are under the water, looking into each other’s eyes and slowly kissing each other. This is the scene where they genuinely expose their true feelings towards each other and can do whatever their hearts desire. This is because the water is the place where absolutely no one could see them, so whatever they do under there, can be a complete secret. This scene can compare to the real society where LGBTQ+ couples could not show romantic love to each other in public as they may face discrimination. To compare this scene to the scene under the stairs, the difference is that although both connote the concealment of their relationship, the one under the water adds a more intense effect as it is another level of intimacy. This suggests that the more they feel, the more needs they have to hide. This scene runs on for a few seconds before both swim up to the water surface. This implies that even though underwater is a place where they can show their true feelings and true-self, it does not supply enough oxygen for humans to survive and they would have to eventually gasp for the air above the water. This can compare to the reality that, in the end, they still have to live in a society where they might not be accepted for who they truly are.
It is not just a particular scene in a specific episode that can convey the meaning, but sometimes you have to watch the whole series in order to understand what the symbols that appear in the scenes actually mean. For instance, the director chooses to tell the story through a specific signifier. For this one, it is ‘breasts’. Chest is the organ that can be seen in both male and female’s upper part of the body; however, breasts can only be shown in a woman’s body. This is when the word ‘breast’ starts to play an important role in the transition of scenes in this series. Firstly, in episode 2, it displays the scene where Tae and Ohaew were riding together at night. Ohaew asked Tae if he has ever touched a breast, Tae denied it, and they both laughed.
Towards the end of episode 3, the scene gives a sense of high sexual tension between two characters as they were fore-playing. The camera took a close-up shot where Tae’s hands are fondling on Ohaew’s chest. This scene points out that both of their sexual tensions have almost reached the highest point before it dropped abruptly after Tae ceased and left the room. To explain more about the meaning behind this, in episode 4, two boys were kissing passionately under the water, Tae’s hands were also groping Ohaew’s chest explicitly. This action may not mean a lot until they went up to the beach and Ohaew faced rejection from Tae as Tae declared that they better remain friends, despite all those romantic and sexual attractions. Those actions left Ohaew in despair since Ohaew knew that he did nothing wrong but he was rejected due to the reason that he is not a woman and does not have a breast.
The highlight scene is in episode 4 which is like a time bomb that explodes and it also clearly explains the earlier breasts grabbing scenes. It was the scene where Ohaew attempted to wear a red bra; he took a picture of himself and uploaded it on his social media before he quickly deleted it right away. He yanked the bra off, collapsed onto the floor and cried his heart out. This scene has indicated that after the rejection of Tae everytime he touches Ohaew’s chest, it has left a large wound inside Ohaew’s heart. I consider this scene to be the climax of all the scenes above as Ohaew was overwhelmed with the feelings of unaccepted and rejection from Tae. In my point of view, the reason that Tae rejected Ohaew is because Tae realised that Ohaew doesn’t have breasts like a woman. This scene implies a lot of meaning. Firstly, we can see that the director has intentionally chosen everything on Ohaew’s body to be red, whether it is the bra, the phone, or his pants. This red colour represents Ohaew’s clear identity. We can see that despite Ohaew’s clear identity of the red colour, he chose to wear a bra, in which he later threw away. This scene suggests that Ohaew was trying to act as a woman, just to be accepted by Tae. It reflects homosexuality as sometimes they may want to be loved as a man, not as a woman. However, in a world where a love between cis man and cis woman are seen as normal, people with other genders and sexual orientation may find it hard to accept themselves or reveal themselves to the society.
In the end, this series has presented us stories of boys who were going through the period of confusion about sexual orientation which can reflect a lot of people in LGBTQ+ community. They also tell the story through symbols such as hibiscus which represent gender diversity, or the particular colour that represents the identity of each character. There are also impressive scenes such as the scene that indicates the concealment of their relationship and the process of the characters development. If I would give this series a colour, I would give it a rainbow. This is because rainbow does not only represent LGBTQ+ community but also a different form of love such as a love between same-sex couple like a love of Tae and Ohaew.