Getting The Plot: Thai Soap Operas

(The following article was published at ‘The Nation’ newspaper yesterday. Actually though, it is completely revamped version of a popular blog written for thai-blogs last year entititled ‘How To Write A Thai Soap Opera’)

Since a lot of the non-Thai speaking foreigners who have been in Thailand for long are completely perplexed to what actually goes on in local TV dramas, I have decided to put together – here today, some guidelines for: Understanding Thai TV Soap Operas.

Since most of the TV soap operas’ characters are more-or-less all the same, here below is a list of some examples:

1. A stunningly milky-skinned leading actress with a big fancy nose-job. Please be assured that even though she is as thick as your copy of the yellow pages and has the acting qualities of an ostrich, that is not the point – she has the looks.

2. A squeaky-clean leading actor. This is Thailand, so no muscle-tanned Florida qualities here. Thai TV prefers star actors who have skin as smooth and white as a baby’s bottom, use For-Men Beauty Lotions and have the latest Korean-style haircut. He might be as hunky as a hedgehog but he is extremely rich.

3. An awfully jealous elder sister. She is as wonderfully good-looking as the leading actress but throws tantrums every time she can’t pull the man of her dreams. Not just a pretty face, she also has the evilest eyes, meanest grin and the angriest voice around.

4. An extremely dangerous ex-boyfriend/admirer of the star girl. Unlike the leading actor this guy is squeaky bad, even richer, a filthy womanizer, addicted-gambler and a complete delinquent.

5. A totally nasty ex-girlfriend/admirer of the star guy. Siding with the leading actress’ elder sister she is also an entirely loathsome type. Spends here time spreading gossip, stealing money and getting stupidly-drunk every time she’s the slightest bit upset.

6. A powerful and possessive father-in-law. Linked to local corrupt politicians, he is constantly involved in illegal business. He waltzes around with an Al Pacino look and is surrounded by a squad of beefy bodyguards who all wear identical black sunglasses.

7. A despicable minor-wife. A true horror of a woman, she meticulously plans the downfall of the merciful common-in-law wife. More ambitious than just than just winning her husband’s signature in righteous marriage, she is also dreaming of knocking him off and seizing his millions.

8. A not-so-smart ladyboy. As a comedian of the series, she doesn’t do that much but fall over chairs and plaster herself in make-up. Actually, she performs all the classic slap-stick Thai comedy stereotype stuff you can imagine.

9. An uneducated Isarn maid. Just like the ladyboy’s, the maid’s role is funny and family-friendly. She spends her days in the house waddling around whistling local folk tunes while wearing a kinky-looking French chambermaid uniform.

10. A daft-looking ghost. No Thai TV Drama would be perfect without a corny ghost of some kind. The ghost either looks like a freaky black-eyed witch with a severe hangover or an odd replica of Kermit the Frog.

Next, there is the plot. Most of the stories are more or less all the darned same from beginning to end, so lets’ have a brief look at a classic example of ‘Lakhorn Nam Nao’ (Insanely-depressing tear jerking drama)

Our leading actress, a pure damsel in distress, has been subjected to a horrific life locked up in the house by her biological mother and her mother’s new lover – a former hated enemy of her dad’s. Beaten and abused since a small child, she finally falls in love with the man of her dreams – a wickedly handsome fruit farmer. Now, the fruit farmer may be a bit of a stunner, but what he lacks is the financial status desired by mum and crooked dad-in-law. Anyway, the couple secretly elope and have a darling baby, sadly for the toddler and happy mom and dad however, the leading actress has been forced into an arranged marriage with the local gun-toting gangster, the first son of an ever-mighty popular politician. Heartbreaks all around – the love-child has been sold for adoption, the star acting fruit farmer has been forced into army service and the leading actress leads a complete life of misery in the arms of a scoundrel.

A complete tear-jerker beyond words and the audience just lap it up. Gladly, in the final episode however, the dreaded gangster husband gets arrested and sent to life imprisonment and the fateful couple and their beloved child are reunited and everyone lives happily ever after.

The viewers just love a ‘rags to riches’ tale and the more emotionally moving, the better. What is compulsory however, is a happy ending, and nothing like any disastrous finale as in Romeo and Juliet. As in accordance to the laws of ‘Buddhist Khamma’, ‘goodness’ always wins over ‘badness’. Thai TV Soap Operas for the viewers are quite obviously a distraction from the usual burdens of every day reality just like the fortnightly media story of ‘Govt. Lottery Jackpot Winner!’ Such stories truly are a heavenly hope for those born into either economic or/and loveless misery – actually, not that much different from such dramas in the Western world.

Besides the ever-loved modern-day ‘Lakhorn Nam Nao’ there is also the early evening super family-favourite ‘Ancient Fable Drama’, again another rags to riches tale of some beautiful country bumpkin who marries an shockingly good-looking lad with absolutely stacks of cash. Here below is a typical ‘ancient fable’ plot.

Our leading actor is a Prince from the past, residing in a spectacularly huge castle. Feeling distraught at the prospect of having to marry into an extremely boring posh family of ’Hi-Society’ orders instead, his servants to find him a fine prospective down-to-earth bride from the local village. Meanwhile, ( just as in ‘Cinderella’) the leading actress has been abused by her hatefully angry elder step-sisters who do everything in their power to potentially ruin any possible understanding between the handsome Prince and the stunning poor leading actress. Adding a bit of distinctive Thai flavour to the story however, there are plenty of sordid castle insights into common-in-laws wives feuding and fighting with jealous minor wives. Then, for an extra splash of humour there is a one-legged nine-foot giant and a platoon of three-foot real-life dwarves running around Snow-White-style. Of course in the end, the perfect ‘Prince’ and the country-beauty are united, married, have two lovely kids and live happily ever after.

Thankfully, Thailand is a country that loves ‘Beauty’ and the land’s soap operas has plenty of that on show. The locations, houses and especially female stars are quite splendid. None of the locations suffer from air-pollution, none of the houses suffer from frequent power-cuts and all the actresses are constantly dressed and dolled-up to the heavens as if they were off to some fancy ball.

Just in case you were wondering about the lack of love scenes in Thai Soap Operas, then please be advised that such awful Western influence is banned from Thai TV. A quick cuddle between the leading actress and actor is perfectly all right but as for any scenes of the couple actually kissing, such filming is strictly prohibited unless the couple has been married in part. This is due to the country’s Ministry of Culture, who after much timely and costly research have deciphered that such intimacies do not occur in Thailand outside of marriage. So, if you want to see any filthy un-Thai stuff like that you had better go back to watching soap operas in Farangland.

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