Chat Suea Pan Mungkorn (Nation’s Tiger of Dragon Descent) has a very strong directorial hand and solid writing with a promising cast. Set in the 1960s, this show challenges the very core of our main character’s deepest desire to be good, by pitting him in the middle of a mobster world: Yaowarat (Thailand’s Chinatown). Songwat (James Ma) aka Suea (Tiger) was born into a Chinese mafia family but was given an opportunity to venture out of danger by getting adopted by a top colonel, whose life he had saved. Songwat gets taken under the influential man’s wing and excelled in the police academy until his sordid past catches up to him. His adopted father withdraws him from his last year at the academy, as well as removes him from the household in order to protect his and his own son’s future and objective. Songwat is given another purpose to Adopted Dad’s life: live in the shadows and become the clean-up man. That is, during the day he runs a new and profitable rice factory, and at night he keeps organized crimes from fighting amongst themselves and clean up after the colonel’s mess. To think you’re leaving an openly “bad” life, to step into and even worse fate.

But despite the life that he is given, Songwat is determined to be good. As Songwat moves back to Yaowarat, he is called Taogae Suea (Master Suea) as he runs the household made up of his younger sister, two teens he inadvertently took under his wings, as well as a slew of employees. One particular teen with the name of Pin Mook aka Ah-Joo (Diana Flipo) is our heroine who has a chip on her shoulders, and with good reasons. Songwat’s uncle, Lim Mang Hong and his sworn brother, Oh Hui Chiang, murdered her entire family in order to expand their business (gambling house and teahouse (aka prostitution joint). Her family lent Lim Mang Hong collateral for the expansion but was betrayed and murdered, leaving Pin Mook as the sole survivor. She lived on the streets for a while and then the temple, until Songwat saves her from being sold into prostitution. Pin Mook realizes that Songwat (whom she calls Hia Hou – Older Bro Hou) is nothing like his uncle. She joins his family of misfits as a teen with a sharp tongue, strong heart, but also totally insecure with her place in life. Because Songwat could not follow his dream as an enforcer of the law, he is all the more adamant that his underlings, his “sisters,” pursue the highest education money can buy. He is sharp as a whip, clever as a bullet, the kind of hero I absolutely adore. And James Ma as Songwat? Excellent casting.

This story is written with so much heart. There aren’t simple villains, what appears as bad isn’t bad, and what appears as good, isn’t as good. It is much like life, where you try to navigate who your enemies are. The characters in this show goes through a guessing game as to who is double crossing them while being played by a mastermind. Songwat doesn’t take anything at face value, he thinks like a cop, and probably wishes he was one too. There are some heart breaking scenes in this first episode: one of them was where Songwat realizes his dream of becoming good is over. He hangs up his police academy’s uniform and closes the closet door. There is another memorable scene with Pin Mook – whom he bickers on the daily with – and those bickering scenes are always charged with chemistry because Pin Mook is a stubborn teen who thinks she knows it all- while Songwat just wants her to pick up a book. I think it’s adorable that he secretly calls her the Little Monster. Throughout this first episode, as their story unfolds, Pin Mook gets worried and exasperated when her Hia Hou leaves her out of things. She learns that Oh Hui Chiang wants to matchmake him with the pretty niece, and Pin Mook gets jealous (though she doesn’t yet realize why), and she confronts him with two questions: are you going to marry her and where were you last night?

Fighting words. Songwat puts her in her place many times, that she doesn’t need to worry about his personal matters and that her #1 job is to study and study hard. Pin Mook gets furious and chides that he’s important to her and she stayed up all night waiting for him, but only to realize that she means nothing to him. The teen runs into her room and cries on her bed, but flashes back to all the times that Hia Hou has cared and protected her. Songwat approaches her with remorse in his eyes, he assures her that she does matter and she’s a member of his family. Pin Mook argues that it should give her the right to ask questions, to be curious. Touché, she IS a smart teen. Songwat gives in and it seems, for the first time, he opens up to her completely with the truth. He says that he does not have any feelings for the woman that his uncle wants to set him up with, but that he is only being polite, and soon enough, the woman would realize this. As for why he did not come home the night prior.. Songwat tells her the story of his Adopted Father, and we too realize, that he is the Big Bad. Bigger than Bad. The way that he recounts the story brings so much sadness, I just want to hide him in a closet, or maybe in my pocket. What I love most about this scene is that Pin Mook thinks of Songwat as her benefactor, her hero. But in so many unspoken ways, she is his salvation. Though he may be doing the saving by providing a roof over her head, she is saving his soul. I don’t think he dare to think of her in any romantic way, but that they have so much natural chemistry, and they bicker so much, but that they are so much alike at the same time, that the connection naturally forms.

And for that, I am sold. I’m game to watch the Nation’s Tiger and his Little Monster save each other. Most of all, I’m excited to report that I’m watching a lakorn again.

Pic cred to their owners (Pantip)