Ngao Asoke is a period lakorn which has been remade thrice, it’s current installment is headlined by Sean Jinachote and Esther Supreeleela, reuniting for the second time after Leh Ratree, which is also produced by Exact.
The title speaks to the shadow of an asoke tree, and the term “asoke” actually derives from Sanskrit that means a person who ends sadness and grief. The asoke tree is considered sacred in India and Sri Lanka – a spring tree that not only has edible properties, but also has quite a tale behind how the name was obtained. Particularly in this lakorn, asoke is a representative of one woman’s love, where it represents hope and happiness when the man isn’t around, and she’s the shadow that gets casted by the tree. Which makes me think of the saying, “Behind every great man, there’s a greater woman.” But I don’t know if that’s where the show is getting at.
Because Ngao Asoke opens with two very unlikely pairing: one is a little girl named Bpie who’s an orphan raised by her sickly grandmother: she is filial and pulls her weight around the house, well more than any tween (the age before hitting puberty) I know. The other is a grown man named Monthai who’s from a prestigious family: he’s virtuous and upstanding. Despite the difference in birth station, these two are the best representatives of character in their time. We know this because the first two episodes show us that when they are met with challenges that test their character, they always opt to do the right thing.
The story of how they meet doesn’t speak to a romance first encounter like in other lakorns, simply because of their age difference, what I think Exact does well though is focusing on establishing that bond instead. It’s a simple connection where one human reaches out to another. Young Bpie had been climbing a rich neighbor’s asoke tree as she was trying to pick the edible flowers, her and grandma have to stretch their meals. As she’s up on the high branches, she notes a gentleman and his lady who makes a promise to love ONLY the lady forever and ever. This brings to mind the fairytale she read earlier about Cinderella and she wondered if Prince Charming really exist. She slips on the branch and falls flat on her butt. The not-so-nice lady screeches that she had been spying on them while the gentleman wonders if she was all right.
He manages to send the lady away and asks the little girl why she had been wandering his property. She admits cautiously that she wants the flowers because her and grandma don’t have anything to eat. The gentleman is more than happy to oblige by picking her several stems, and because he’s a kind human being and knows that edible flowers won’t fill a belly (or bellies), he offers enough money to give Young Bpie a lavish meal with grandma. Young Bpie is immediately grateful and the gentleman could not help but feel a connection with her because she is unlike any little girl he came across. Young Bpie came to know this gentleman as Monthai and thanks her lucky stars that she has met THE Prince Charming.
Through this experience, we know that Bpie’s strength and weakness is being filial. Grandma teaches her that her dutifulness will only move her forward in life. Young Bpie believes that she owes a debt to those who help her, even if that person merely gave her a meal. While Monthai’s strength and weakness is his virtuous and stubborn nature. This manifests itself with his mother. We’ll call her by her title “Khun Ying,” who detests men that succumbs to their baser instincts and get attracted to maids or women with lower social status. Her own husband has fathered an illegitimate child with a maid and has been known to sleep with other maids too. This has been the bane of Khun Ying’s existence and she vows that her own son, Monthai, will not fall prey to those insatiable maids. Khun Ying finds out that a maid named Lakkana crushes on her son and she wants to nip it in the bud before the girl sets her cap on Monthai. Even though Monthai is only in love with Viyada, the woman that Khun Ying has already approved. Unfortunately for Khun Ying, her actions against Lakkana only push her only son away from her, testing his principles and the very core of his being.
What happens is pretty harsh. Khun Ying first abuses Lakkana, teaching her not to come near her son but when that doesn’t work, she sets to fire both Lakkana and her mother from their job (who’s sleeping with Jao Khun (Lord of the Manor)). Khun Ying’s temper and evil ways show itself when she takes a scissor to Lakkana’s hair, deeming that the girl is using her beauty to attract Monthai and cuts the hair nearly to the scalp. The maids have no where to go and are willing to put up with the abuse, and as a last ditch effort, Lakkana’s mom actually chains her daughter to the bedpost so that she doesn’t go out and accidentally sees Monthai. Unfortunately, Monthai not realizing the dire situation between his mother and Lakkana, makes matters worse by showing up at her doorstep. Khun Ying sees red and kicks the maids out of the house, which prompts Lakkana to hit the bottomless pit of depression and hangs herself.
Monthai figures that he needs to do something to ensure that Khun Ying is confident in his promise to marry Viyada and he sets out to ask for Viyada’s hand in marriage from her parents. It’s an untraditional engagement to surprise his mother. As he and Viyada return to the manor to get his mother’s blessings, they are met with the gruesome suicide of Lakkana instead. It was the last straw for Monthai, his mother committed a crime – even though she didn’t kill her, she inadvertently was responsible for her death – and Monthai can’t remain passive. He was beyond disappointed, angry – it hit the very mark of his humanity. He tells mom that the plan to study abroad in America will happen sooner rather than later, and when he graduates and if he decides to return to Thailand, he will never step foot in the manor again, because he can’t put anyone else’s life in jeopardy because of him. Khun Ying is floored that her son would dare sever ties with her, and because she is even more stubborn, Khun Ying cuts her ties with him too. I applaud Monthai for his absolute righteousness, but I have a feeling that that strength of his could very well become his weakness too.
A couple of things happen after that, since death comes in three. Due to the family’s breakup, Jao Khun dies from a heart attack, crushing Monthai. The only time we see that he actually steps foot in the manor is to pay his respect to his father’s ashes. Next, Bpie’s grandma dies from a near hit from Viyada’s irresponsible driving. Grandma was already dying due to an untreated disease and the shock from the near hit propels her into critical condition. Before she dies, she asks Viyada’s dad to take care of Bpie, grasping at any straws for the wellbeing of her granddaughter. The man agrees in the best interest of his daughter since she could be incriminated for her reckless driving.
Little did Young Bpie know that she has become the very character she read about in the fairytale: Cinderella. The family of four takes her under their wing as a maid and she serves them like a dutiful little maid. Her grandma’s teachings has been embedded deep within Young Bpie’s heart, and she will never forget that she owes her benefactors everything.
Before Monthai departs for his long-term study abroad program in New York, he meets Young Bpie again at his fiancé’s residence. Young Bpie looks up to him like a hero she worships, because he IS kind and upstanding. Every time they meet, he doesn’t treat her like a maid and sets out to help her. Their fate inextricably gets tied when Viyada, Evil Step Sister One, orders Young Bpie to pen a note on the back of a picture for her, since her penmanship is illegible. Young Bpie thinks of a gift for Monthai as well and embroiders his initials on a handkerchief, but becomes disappointed when she thinks she has missed the opportunity to send him off to the airport. Monthai does show up before her, right beneath the asoke tree and she gets her farewell. He tells her to think of this asoke tree as his representative, and one day they will meet again.
Young Bpie is tasked with corresponding to Monthai exclusively during his time away. In effect, Young Bpie and Monthai become penpals, and she is his only connection to home, to Thailand. He just doesn’t know that the person he has been exchanging letters with is actually Young Bpie, who soon grew up to be a beautiful maiden. The grownup Bpie respects and worships Monthai so much so that even when Evil Step Sister One tells her to stop writing letters and end their relationship – due to the fact that Monthai refuses to come home after graduation (it’s been 5 years already), he wanted to work first and save up money to marry Viyada- Bpie dutifully and religiously pens a letter to Monthai that she’ll always support his decisions. A few more years go by like this, where Bpie seemingly falls in love and lives vicariously through her correspondence with Monthai, and then Monthai’s love for “Viyada” grows through what he thinks is her commitment and support.
Now that, is a romance conflict that I am already dying to see unfold. What I notice about Monthai – that I hope gets fleshed out more as the story progresses- is that he has not seen Viyada for the two faced that she is. How did he fall in love with someone so shallow? Do you remember that in the fairytale, Evil Stepmom would tell her two Evil Daughters that they should fool the man until after the wedding and the real claws come out? I was hoping our Prince Charming is a little more astute from “trickeries” and see Viyada for what she is. For now we see Monthai as just one dimensional, he’s kind and righteous, so I am curious to learn if he’s more than that. I hope smart is also on the menu, because we have seen enough heroes who believe others easily, heroes who are noble idiots, and well, heroes who disappoint.
The two episodes feature the Young Bpie almost exclusively and I find myself not complaining because Pear Nattatida portrays her to a tee. She’s so lively on screen it makes me convinced of her heroe-like affection for Monthai. I missed seeing Esther with Sean on screen, and the final minutes of episode two shows us what we can look forward to: I like that Show puts Sean right by Esther’s ears as he reads the letter and she, imagining that he’s right there next to her. The drawback is that Monthai has imagined Viyada saying those words to him, and even though they’re Bpie’s words, it’s Viyada’s face he sees. It’ll be interesting to see how Show will convince us that Monthai loves Bpie and not Viyada.
It’s a straightforward lakorn with lovely tone and directorial touches, although I will say that Esther and Sean feels like they are playing similar characters to that of Leh Ratree. I am still interested to see their first “adult” encounter. What will Monthai think of the Older Bpie? What will Bpie do when Viyada learns that she didn’t heed her orders and end the penpal exchange? And will Monthai make it back to Thailand before Khun Ying kills herself as a last ditch effort for her son’s attention? There’s definitely a lot more in store for us drama wise, I have not seen the previous versions so I won’t be making comparisons, but it’s not at that crack level yet to be sure, just enough interest in the surface level to keep me coming back for episode 3. And sometimes, that’s a good enough reason indeed.