I got sucked into the rabbit hole that is Thai teen dramas. It began with the second season of the popular TV series, Hormones featuring a lesbian couple and from there it just got more gay.
Called the Skins of Thailand, the envelope-pushing Hormones: The Series follows a group of students at the fictional Nadao Bangkok College and bears more than just a little resemblance to its UK predecessor in addressing subjects such as drug use, single parenthood, sex, bullying and sexual identity.
In the second season, now airing, it even adopts the trope of naming episodes after the character it’s focusing on (instead of after various hormones in the first season). It’s not a straight up reboot like the American remake, which I couldn’t even watch. And, as much as I loved the original Skins, I might like Hormones even more. Both series portray teen life in a very raw and open manner — the good, the bad and the ugly — aiming to be as authentic as they are shocking. But I often find UK television shows are more about the shock value than the content itself. Though I’m not familiar with daily Thai life enough to say for sure, Hormones felt a lot more down-to-earth about their more sensitive subjects. Queer characters may be a new trope for teen dramas, but in this case their stories were presented as matter-of-factly as any other teen love story and felt imminently relatable, even to someone whose coming out experience was 15 years previous and 7,500 miles away.
In the fourth episode of season two, features Dao (Sananthachat Thanapatpisal) and Koi (Kemisara Paladesh). The two girls, already best friends, become closer when Dao tells Koi about her ex-boyfriend whom she slept with before he abandoned her to deal with the ramifications of their premarital sex on her own. A main character in the first season with a very strict mother, Dao had already dealt with the teasing that came from other students finding out about their tryst when she purchased emergency contraception. When she sees the boy again the memory of it all is too much, but Koi is there for her when she needs her.
Through their burgeoning romance fellow classmates plaster pictures of the duo being adorable all over a “Dreamy Couple” Facebook page, never suspecting that they might actually be lesbians … until they do. The show explores this complex teen attitude toward homosexuality without judgement. The girls are only beginning to discover their feelings themselves and as they begin to realize they’re not just cute for the masses but may genuinely be falling for each other it becomes more apparent to the other girls as well. This culminates in one of the other students clanging together cymbals, which are apparently a signifier for breasts in Thailand, in order to provoke Dao. It works and she strikes the girl, bringing on a parent-teacher conference and disciplinary action wherein she is made to deny her relationship with Koi.
What will become of them is yet to be seen, as the season is not yet over, but there is foreshadowing in the latest episode that the girls’ troubles may not be done. Despite that the couple continue to explore their relationship and be adorable, exchanging Hello Kitty love notes, and as I watched more I realized it wasn’t the first gay storyline the show had pursued. These may be new and groundbreaking subjects for mainstream Thai TV but not to director Songyos Sugmakanan, who made a movie with the Hormones name in 2008 and handles multiple queer characters with nuance and aplomb. For example, throughout the first season there existed a love quadrangle between a girl and three boys, one of whom, Phu (Chutavuth Pattarakampol), faced a lot of confusing decisions in the pursuit of relationships with Toei (Sutatta Udomsilp), a girl, or Thee (Sedthawut Anusit), a boy. These feelings are still broiling throughout the second season and lends itself to the show’s Thai subtitle which translates loosely to “The Confusing Teens.”
In my pursuit of English subtitled videos (which can be found easily on YouTube and elsewhere) I also came upon KudaLakorn, a site that synopsizes and/or translates Thai teen stories. Another new series, Lovesick, based on an online novel, is also tackling queerness, perhaps even more explicitly. It is about two boys who pretend to be a couple only to realize that they may have real feelings for each other.
While there has been some backlash, both series have proven quite popular. Last year’s first season of Hormones ranked third in its Saturday time slot directly behind two network stations, even though it was on cable, and some YouTube posts have thousands or even millions of views. So while western media still characterizes every day Thai life as very conservative “…with programming revolving around game shows and anodyne soap operas, and sex education premised on abstinence over birth control,” the popularity of these new shows imply that Thais may be open to talking about teen sexuality and other hot-button issues. Perhaps Hormones and Lovesick represent a turning point in Thai culture and media. I’m certainly ready to see where all these storylines go, so if you want to find me I’ll be glued to this couch for the next three weeks until the season finale.
Any word on whether the show will follow-up the series-ending Happily Ever After with a two-part TV movie in which one of the lesbians is inexplicably murdered by trope cancer while the show’s straight, white creators lash out at a minority group that feels legitimately betrayed because they put the show on the international map in the first place? Just trying to figure out of it’s *really* the Skins of Thailand.
(Also, I will watch this. I like this review a lot. My Skins Fire bitterness is a poison in my soul.)
OMG Heather Hogan I love you
The other death on the show was also disturbing…
Yeah, we probably should have known then. A show *maybe* isn’t committed to being reasonable/responsible when it has a teenage girl’s jealous psychiatrist murder her boyfriend by smashing his brains in with a baseball bat.
The cymbal clanging is a lewd way of saying lesbian sex. To dtee ching ตีฉิ่ง means to hit cymbals together…
Thank you for explaining better. I really wanted to consult you for this article. It was too bad you were away. I feel like you might hate teen dramas but if you don’t we should watch these together.
I’ll watch with you because it’s Thai! Otherwise you’re right about the teen drama thing :)
It’s nice to hear teen shows in other countries are introducing/have shown queer storylines! I haven’t heard of any before.
Alley, what UK TV shows aside from Skins have you found to be more about the shock value than the content?
So the one that comes to mind the most was an episode of Channel 4’s “Bodyshock” series which talked about trans kids:
It was called “Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change” which seems like a pretty sensational title in itself but the whole “Bodyshock” moniker seems pretty obvious for shock value. And Channel 4 seems to do this often. Now despite that, AND that they used the wrong pronouns for all the youth, I remember the show itself as being pretty decent. But that said, I feel like the way it was presented just overshadowed that.
So I know this is just one program, and I don’t necessarily want to seek out a bunch of examples because I hope I can be mostly wrong but, anyway, these are the kinds of things I was thinking about.
I certainly agree with you given the example! Thanks for answering, I just wanted a little clarification on what shows you were thinking of. Cheers.
The first queer movie I ever watched was the Thai teen melodrama Love of Siam, and it particularly resonated with me (and is still my go-to “I need a good cry” movie). I’m definitely going to take a look at Hormones!
I remember watching Yes/No a year or so ago, and I found the storyline to be cutesy but in a fresh way. I’ll be watching this for sure!
Omg Yes or No is one of my favorite movies, it’s so adorable! If you’re interested there is a sequel!
This looks so good! Heading over to Youtube right now to give it a go…
I’ll join you!
There was some effort on a marriage equality bill in Thailand (pretty significant considering in many of its neighbouring countries it’s still illegal to be queer) but the current political crisis has stalled the bill somewhat: http://lgbtweekly.com/2014/04/10/thai-marriage-equality-bill-unable-to-proceed-due-to-political-crisis/
That is awesome, and I will def give it a go. Thanks for those posting Thai movie recs in the comments as well!
Finally got around to watching Ong Bak last week, and Humlae definitely gave off a gay vibe as well.
Does anybody have background info on that by any chance?Google came up empty.
Maybe I’ll turn September into Thai Theme month and broaden my horizon a bit about the country, because why not? :-)
What background info are you specifically looking for? Sorry I got a bit confused to which movies you were referring to. I can help you with anything relating to Thai movies etc.
Ok so who wants to go to Thailand with me to escape the horrible Jan/Feb blues?
I’m eager to watch more shows from around the world with LGBT content, so since I loved Skins I’ll check this one out!
Hopefully along with Skins’s excessive sensationalism (a complaint I agree with, though I hardly think it’s limited to British TV), it’ll also dispense with Skins’s weird vendetta against psychiatrists. Yeah, I’m sure all those drugs Effy takes are just fine with her many mental and mood disorders, but it’s only when she visits an actual professional that her life goes to hell…
“Another new series, Lovesick, based on an online novel, is also tackling queerness, perhaps even more explicitly. It is about two boys who pretend to be a couple only to realize that they may have real feelings for each other.”
Sounds like Thai male Faking It. :’)
I JUST REALIZED I need to watch Faking It. So excited…
I’ve been watching this show since it aired. I’ve found that over the last few years, there has been more shows in Thailand with LGBT content that have some kind of ‘happy ending’ for the LGBT couple. It seems that as Thailand becomes more accepting, more companies are willing to fund and air these types of shows. Even in the last year or so, there is even a daytime show called “HOMO” which is presented by a trans-man and a trans-woman who interview well-known LGBT in the community.
For those who would like to view the HOMO show you can watch it at this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCREMox9cxiD2yLEweMr9YdQ Although it is not subbed, you can still enjoy the people featured.
I watched a bit of this and…man…if anyone wants to translate I’d watch it all the time!
Awesome! Was there a particular episode you would like translated? I could give it a go if you like?
I haven’t had a chance to look them over too much but I would love to check one out. Certainly don’t want to put you out with a translation but if it sounds fun I’m down! Pick whichever one you think is the best!
Hey, I’ve tried translating one episode I really enjoyed. I don’t think I can do a proper sub but I can send you a copy of the written translation if you like since I already wrote it out. Sorry!
In the meantime, please watch this episode. I really recommend it!
Yer the coolest! Feel free to send anything to firstname.lastname@example.org. But seriously, only if you already have it. DO you live in Thailand?
I’ve sent the translation to your email. I actually don’t live in Thailand. I haven’t been back for years.
I was in Chiang Mai about a year ago for a short vacation and, flipping through the channels, I was shocked when I stumbled over a lesbian movie on television! Everything was in Thai with no subtitles, so I couldn’t understand any of the dialogue but it looked like a typical teen coming-of-age movie. I ended up glued to the screen for the next hour, watching a very angsty teen drama that I would have completely ignored in the US, but because this was THAILAND I just HAD to see it. Just before the credits though, they allowed one sweet little lip-to-lip kiss and I remember jumping up and squealing like I was 12. Girls kissing on TV! In Thailand! There are parts of the world that still give me hope.
Being from the place Skins UK was filmed, it will always be dear to my heart, but this looks great so I might check it out!
I spent a semester in college in Bristol so I agree. It’s cool to see some of the places and clubs I used to go to.