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Among the many slap kiss lakorns and marriage contract genre who got it wrong, Leh Ratree (A Woman’s Trickery) from One HD and Exact production on the other hand, got it so, so right. This 12-episode lakorn not only dispels the standard social difference and debt repayment plot device, this show defies it by offering witty writing, compelling conflict and lovable (but developed) characters.

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We begin the story with Kate Patarin (Esther Supreeleela) who wants nothing more than to marry the person she loves. Prince Charming and a white chariot need not apply since this is not a Cinderella story after all, or is it? Kate leads a small but comfortable life consisting of a close family, a fiancé who is her neighbor and longtime friend, along with a modeling side job and a college degree on the horizon. But everything comes to a screeching halt when her father gets caught embezzling funds from the company he works for- Empire Mall- to recover his gambling addiction and debt.

The President of Empire Mall happens to be the very Prince Charming himself, complete with a white Porshe and lives in a castle. Who doesn’t love the analogy in this show? His name is Khun Saek Suthakarn (Sean Jindachote) but he’s not the goody two shoes Prince Charming if you will, nor is he single for that matter. He’s a whip smart, 3-piece suit wearing, and word wielding hero. He once thought he met his happily ever after when he married his wife Eitsala (Fang Pitchaya Srithep), but there is no peace to be had when his mother and sister do not approve of her. His mother merely condoned the marriage because his wife was pregnant at the time, and Mom (known as Khun Ying (Jarunee Suksawat)) so desperately wanted an heir to the throne so to speak, unfortunately his wife miscarried and they had not been able to get pregnant since.

Their problem could very well be the same problem that afflicts many couples when trying to conceive, and the next step would be to seek professional help. However Eitsala refuses adamantly, as if she has something to hide. But Khun Ying would not be thwarted, so while Khun Saek is at work, she manages to force Eitsala to get some fertility testing done and it is determined that she had her uterus removed five years ago, BEFORE she even met Khun Saek. Ouch. The betrayal and pain runs deep and causes irreversible damage to their relationship. He no longer refuses to stop Khun Ying from starting the divorce proceedings and kicking Eitsala out of the house. It is now a chess match between Eitsala and Khun Ying.

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At the same time, Khun Saek discovers the culprit behind his company’s embezzlement, coming right off of a heartbroken separation with his wife. The poor soul that gets the ramifications is our very own Kate, whose father hightails out of sight since the loan shark is after him, her mother goes after him to bring his ass back, and Kate has to shoulder the responsibility with her younger brother and sister. Worse part, she does not even know, could not even come to fathom, that her father would do such a thing. Aside from gambling, he’s a gentle, respectable person who dotes on Kate as if she is his own daughter.

Kate’s life gets turned upside down and inside out when the angry god descends upon her home (Khun Saek and his guards) and demands to see her father. She had met Khun Saek once before at the photoshoot for Empire and he was a prickly perfectionist, but this, now this is ten times worse. He throws the fact that her father cheated his company at her face and forces her to accept the truth by “waking her up” with a douse of a cold shower. He finally backs off when Kate, although young and naïve, is wise and brave, and tells him that even if her father had embezzled his company, SHE didn’t do anything to deserve the punishment. That was enough to wake him up, because momentarily insanity aside, Khun Saek is a good man. During the time that her father is gone, Khun Saek finds himself rescuing her when the loan shark minions come after her father.

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But Dad can’t hide forever and once discovered, made a bargain with Khun Ying to forgive his debt. He offers the one thing that Khun Ying wants so desperately: an heir. Dad says that his daughter is young and healthy, she could be a surrogate mother. Team Saek are floored by the offer, but Pakinee or Pak (Gypsy Keerati Mahapreukpong), Khun Saek’s younger sister and business woman extraordinaire, plants a bug in mom’s ears. Maybe it isn’t such a bad idea after all because she noticed that during the few encounters between Khun Saek and Kate, the girl could make her brother smile. Doesn’t that count for something? Besides, they need Eitsala to sign the divorce papers on her own accord, and the only way to convince her is if Khun Saek has another woman and is over her.

That convincing is difficult on many fronts, because Eitsala is not a dumb woman. She and Khun Saek are legitimately in love and she is disinclined to believe that Khun Saek could find another woman to replace her in such a short period of time. Kate and Khun Saek would have to play along in order to deter Eitsala and all the chips have to fall in their places to make it work. So many things could go wrong. But with a kickass Team Khun Saek, a whip smart hero, a sympathetic heroine and their gaggle of charming servants, it is ALL right. On top of that, we get two equally compelling love story between the first and second leads, which is just icing on the cake.

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When Khun Saek meets Kate, he is immediately attracted to her. There is a spark that exists between these two that even Kate’s servants notice. They observe that Kate never had that electric spark with Satayu or Pu (Jespipat Tilapornput) her fiancé. Khun Saek could not, for the life of him, take his hands off of her when he’s near her. When he finds out that her father offered her to be his surrogate, and he didn’t know that she didn’t know, he ends up cornering her in his office and ‘sampling’ the platter. He kisses her thoroughly, which earns him a slap, but his behavior does not go unnoticed by Khun Ying and his sister Khun Pak, who gave him the side eye when they walk in on him smooching Kate. Every bad behavior gets called out in this show, when a character does something stupid or out of character, they don’t get away with it.

Even though Kate feels like she is a pawn in this chess match, maneuvered by Khun Ying, Dad and Eitsala, she goes in making the best of her time there. She gives herself a pep talk that this is a sacrifice for her family – otherwise her dad goes to jail – and once she gives the Suthakarn an heir, she could go back to her own life. It is not like she’s really marrying Khun Saek or sleeping with him. She’s just carrying his child. She can just walk away from all of this after the baby is born. No harm no foul. If only things work out that way in lakorn land. Granted, she’s realistic in that she does not string Pu along. She still loves and respects him as a brother, which is probably all she ever really felt about him, and she goes into this call of duty with eyes wide open.

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Khun Saek only condones his mother’s chess move because he could not look at his wife the same way again. We can tell that if he truly is against something or does not want to do something, no one, not even his mother could force him. I love how tough and smart and totally swoon worthy he is. The scene where he found out his wife betrayed him was so heartbreaking. I love his internal conflict; he didn’t want to believe it at first but doctor’s test report was clear, he wanted to go to her but he also never wanted to see her again. When she tells him that she lied because she wants to be with him, it is the worse insult because she couldn’t trust him enough, trust him as a husband and MAN, to do right by her. And I think that is the biggest blow. He smashed the glass vase right into the wall as she begged for his forgiveness, shattering his hand, his marriage, and his love. Ah, my heart can’t take the pain in his eyes.

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That is why Khun Saek’s road to recovery is so satisfying. As Kate moves into his castle, day by day she starts to mend his broken heart and shows him what it means to be truly cared for. What I love about his character is not only because he is smart, but he never once insults her for the epic sacrifice that she’s making for her family. Show doesn’t make money as the central conflict in this story like a lot of other marriage contract lakorns do. He KNOWS that she’s working at the castle and being the surrogate mother for money (ultimately), so Show doesn’t harp on about that. There’s only so much argument of “but she’s a gold digger” that viewers can tolerate. Besides, how can anyone, not even us or the heroine, love a guy who insults us, abuse us, and spits on the ground we walk on? So bravo to Show for giving us such a great hero.

The conflict in this story truly rises out of character motivations. The characters drive the story forward, which makes for a full dimensional story, witty repertoire and characters with motive, even the villain. Eitsala is not your average, screeching villain who just wants the hero for herself. She loves him in her own way, but at the end of the day, she loves money and herself more. When she realizes that Khun Saek is done with her and she could no longer be married to him, she opts to sue him for a larger divorce settlement instead. I like that her angle isn’t to get him back, but to punish him for bringing a woman into the house even before their marriage is over. I get excited about her chess move against Khun Ying, since these two are awesome opponents. It’s a battle of wills and who can hold out longer in the divorce court.

At first when I watched this lakorn and its intro, I felt like I was watching a slap/kiss, revengey centric story. However, I am constantly smiling and laughing – feeling like I’m actually watching a romantic comedy of our couples duking it out and seeing who is going to one man up each other. It’s awesome. I love that Kate constantly pushes Khun Saek’s button without even knowing it, they bicker and banter (of the friendly kind) and Khun Saek is so smitten, he hides ALL of his smiles until they practically ooze out of his pores. This guy is so happy and I just want Kate to be with him every minute so he could smile that smile and forgive and forget. They make my heart happy.

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Another couple worth rooting for is Pu and Khun Pak. Their relationship grew out of Khun Pak’s determination to make her brother happy again, and if Kate is the source of it, she’s going to do everything she can to help them along. That means keeping Pu out of the picture. But she doesn’t do it in a conniving, standard second lead way. Khun Pak is a savvy business woman, a straight shooter and a woman who has so much self-awareness. SHE could very well be her own leading heroine in a lakorn. She’s the moral compass in this show and gives Pu (and us) food for thought. For example, Pu thinks that he and Kate could go back to the way things used to be once Kate produces an heir. Khun Pak first tells Kate that it would be wrong of her to string the poor guy along if she chooses to be a surrogate mother. She needs to end things while it’s just getting started. She then tells Pu that he can’t hope that Kate and Khun Saek (her brother) would exist in this surrogacy-personal assistant-roommates relationship without developing any bond or feelings for each other. It’s the natural way of the world that two people, a man and a woman, in close proximity every day, and has a spark the size of a telephone pole, to not have any feelings for each other. Does he think her brother and Kate could walk away after having a baby together, unscathed, unfeeling? Ah, she’s so good.

On the flip side, Pu, the hot headed, totally adorable second lead, promises to wait for Kate and love her unconditionally. When he met Khun Pak, he thought she was just another hi so snob who doesn’t keep track of her time and keeps him waiting. As the top architect at his firm, he could pick and choose which client he works with, so his first impression of Khun Pak is not a friendly one. However Khun Pak, did not intend to make him wait, the clock at the gym was actually dead (LOL) and she finds herself from that point on, the one chasing Pu. Such a disadvantage for a woman, but Khun Pak, who is third in line on the Suthakarn throne, grew up supporting her mom and brother, and never got to experience other joys in life. Until she met Pu, whom she became really good friends with, and who shows her a different part of life: the unconstructed, passionate and fun.

I love that in each of our first and second lead’s love story, each of them can prove to the other what they are missing. It’s like the other person is a magnifying glass, forcing you to see something you can’t see yourself. It’s so real. We don’t always know or see our own problem until someone points it out.

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The love scenes and kisses in this show are done with a purpose, and after the act, it changes the current and everything about the relationship. It’s just not a means to an end, or a fan service purpose (although this fan really do get a kick out of all of the real kisses in this show). Case in point, when Khun Saek and Kate sleep together for the first time, out of jealousy, out of want, and out of ‘can you not hate me the most out of everyone,’ they both surrender to their feelings. Kate realizes that she could never go back to her previous life, she’s forever changed. Khun Saek realizes that he is in love with Kate and wants her to be his wife for real.

Khun Pak and Pu also end up sleeping together to prove a point, can two people who have no feelings for each other actually commit the act unwillingly? (We’re not talking about rape here). But at the end of the act, their friendship is broken, Pu is confused and Khun Pak pretends to act cavalier about everything, but in turn she is hurt because she gave herself to a man who has not gotten over his fiancé and now they could never be friends- because she can no longer be friendly around him anymore when all she wants is to be his lover.

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Both men sought to make things right which speaks to their character, and it’s so much fun to see how both couples come back to their relationship stronger and even more adorable. There is no unnecessary, stupid fights when you’ve got solid characters motivating the story. I also really like how Khun Saek just does things because it’s the right thing and the thing he wants to do. Kate’s father has cancer and although Khun Saek is upset that she could not come to him for the money, he decides to lighten her load by paying the hospital fees anyway. To this day, I don’t even think Kate knows that Khun Saek had been the one to pay for it.

But things aren’t all romantic comedy in this show. They know how to make you nervous by presenting a legitimately scary villain into the mix. It’s Khun Ad (Lift Supoj), a dirty politician. He gets everything he wants when he puts his mind to it. It just so happens that he wants Kate after seeing her ad on Empire billboard. He’s bored of the easy, plastic surgery induced models, and goes after the girl next door Kate. The only person standing in his way is Khun Saek, who fears no politician or evil doers. He goes all Knight in Shining Armor on Kate every time Khun Ad attempts to do anything untoward her. At first Khun Ad thinks Khun Saek is just a fly on the wall, to be crushed, but when Khun Saek jeopardized his political power and next election, it’s war. We don’t have a villain who wants only the girl, but he is motivated to punish Khun Saek because his power is threatened. The perfect person to do this, both chilling and strangely attractive is Lift Supoj. My former of days of Lift-Oil fangirl is totally biased, I will admit. He’s still so hot. Gah. Am I supposed to be fangirling over a villain?

He wreaks so much havoc for Team Saek, but all of the repercussions only manage to test our characters and allow everyone to rise to the occasion. Everything serves a purpose in this story. When Khun Saek experiences temporary blindness due to Khun Ad’s bombing of his warehouse, his sister must step up in her brother’s place while he recovers. Khun Saek realizes that he could not be without Kate for a moment, if it means he would have to be miserable and alone. Why would you want to be miserable when you could be happy? It’s heartbreaking that he pretends he doesn’t have temporary blindness to his mother because he’s afraid of stressing her out even more, but Khun Ying is as sharp as a knife and doesn’t miss anything. She calls her kids out on their lies, mom is just as tough, because otherwise, how else did she manage to raise two strong, capable children? Love this. You may need tissue papers.

And Khun Pak questions her leadership but she gets the help of Khun Pat (Kate’s dad) who redeems himself by helping the Suthakarn in a time of need, and the incorrigible Pu who stays by her side because he wants to. Even Kate’s younger brother and sister all assist in taking down Khun Ad. Team Khun Saek, for the win.

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At the end of the day, Show gives us characters (both heroes and villains) that we care about. These characters then drive the story, growing and developing to the point of a finale climax that brings us full circle, and back to where we started, but as entirely different people. Kate got her fairytale wedding, albeit a small gathering at her parent’s backyard, reenacting the childhood scene. Khun Saek recovers his heart, knowing that his former love sacrificed her life for him and all was not lost. He now has a bright future with the woman whom he loves and makes him happy, and a bun in the oven to boot. He never imagined that his castle could be so cozy. He even has a new friend in Pu who has never tried to make Kate his own, but who is a constant reminder throughout the series of how a person should act when they love someone: they should be happy when the person they love is happy. Eitsala learns this all too late, but better late than never, as she meets her demise by protecting Khun Saek.

All is right with the world. And all is right with this lakorn – Leh Ratree – a lakorn that tackles the standard clichés with so much heart and depth. It’s so good, I could cry. The happy variety, complete with joyful tears and a big, sappy smile. The cast was amazing, especially Sean and Esther. Go on, watch this if you haven’t already done so. You will be wishing for a ‘Team Khun Saek’ all for your own.

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