In the recently completed Channel 7 evening lakorn, “Hi-so Sa Orn,” the show tells the story of a high society heroine by the name of Mayrisa (Maggi Apa) who hasn’t always grown up hi-so; who must prove herself to stay on her grandmother’s inheritance, but at the end of the day, who must decide what truly matters. It paints a realistic picture that being hi-so is not easy to come by, and once in this small, exclusive circle, it’s hard to remember what life was like before. Until your belief is challenged, until your small world is shaken by an outsider.

The outsider goes by the name of Aidin (Kem Hussawee), a blue-collar worker who runs his own auto shop. Aidin grew up in Udon Thani, in a town called Gumpawapee, but moved to the city to raise his family (he has an adorable daughter named Nu Lek and an older sister named Waew Dao), but also in the deepest recess of his heart, he hopes to find his first love who had gone AWOL from Gumpawapee more than ten years ago. Prior to opening his own auto shop, Aidin worked as a mechanic at the textile/garment factory and remains in touch with the workers who value and respect his opinions, it is also where his older sister still works at. The regulars frequent a restaurant/karaoke establishment called “Isaan Sa Orn” where all the gossips and gatherings take place, so Aidin is always in the know when it comes to the fate of Saengrawee’s garment factory.

We open the story with Mayrisa rushing from the airport to her grandmother’s 60th anniversary celebration. The threat of losing her inheritance hangs at the balance, she had to make an appearance after studying in Paris for so long. Through a series of unfortunate transportation event, Mayrisa finds herself in a two-way traffic accident. Aidin gets called to the scene to assess the damage, but as he set his eyes on her, lo and behold, he recognizes her immediately. But this grown up Mayrisa calls herself “Mary” and behaves nothing like the young Mayrisa, which makes him doubt his first impression. Their hilarious meet cute extends through the night when finally, Aidin decides to drop her off at the party, not without accidentally pushing her into the bushes. Thus, Mayrisa shows up looking worse for wear, at a hiso event with paparazzi’s cameras flashing. Grandma was embarrassed and furious. Meanwhile Aidin scours the internet and gets confirmation that Mary is indeed his Mayrisa, but that brief excitement is followed by shock and disappointment that his Mayrisa turned out this way.

An aspect I love about this show is that there are always two sides to the story, and show doesn’t lose sight on giving us an effective argument. While Mary may look like she has everything a woman could want, we are invited to see that she has no luxury of freedom to move or have independent thought. She spent 13 years raised in the country, speaking Isaan, living like an ordinary person. But overnight, she is swept away from the country, without a single word to anyone in town, and moves into the city to live with her hiso dad and grandmother, with her entire past erased from history. She is instructed to live like a hiso and overtime she acclimated to the lifestyle, but more importantly, as we see evidence from her ordinary mom, whatever Mary failed at gets used against her mom, Pinta. Grandma’s overt disapproval gets nastier as she treats Pinta like an inferior, blaming her “lowly” blood of tainting Mary’s potential. Pinta just takes it because she hopes that one day her good traits will win over grandma’s approval, and she’s also doing this so she could be with her beloved husband. Mary knew she had to abide by grandma’s orders if she wants to keep her inheritance, and if she wants her mom to live in peace. Being the hiso Mary isn’t an easy feat, by any means, especially when she can’t even be herself.

Mary gets tasked with managing the struggling garment factory, despite wanting to go into fashion designing. Grandma threatens her – you guessed it – with the inheritance. But another reasoning is that the garment factory has a special place in grandma’s heart because she built that factory with the late grandpa, and she doesn’t want to see it shutdown. Mary must prove to grandma that she can make the factory profitable once again, despite not having any experience in business management, nor the industry of which the garment factory lies. Thankfully, she encounters Aidin again and again who stands behind her, always (albeit secretly) cheering her on. He knows the business very well, having worked there in the past and a very skilled mechanic at that, Mary leans on him a lot for his professional opinion. But as Aidin coaches Mary, and even though she reluctantly believes him, she still put his suggestions to the test because she doesn’t want to fail, which shows Aidin that there is still the old Mayrisa somewhere in there, and he is determined to peel away those hiso layers. It is adorable how happy he gets when she is successful. He helps her because he wants to without any conditions. If that is not true love, I don’t know what is.

The truth is though, Aidin is that pure, noble guy, and possibly the very best of men, however, he has his weakness that Show illustrates without a doubt. Mary may be somewhat naïve and requires concrete evidence before she makes a move, but when she knows something is right or wrong, she has the conviction to stand up for it. She has that fighting spirit that makes us cheer for her as the story progresses. While Aidin, on the other hand, is like the turtle analogy that Show presented, he’s at ease in his own shell. He’s never in any hurry, he’s very accepting of his own “lowly” fate (though being a hard worker and owning your own company is something to be praised), but by the same token, there are times you fight for what you want when it matters. You can’t sit around in your shell, hoping things will work itself out. He sacrifices himself for everyone around him, his sister, his niece, Mary, but when it comes to his own desires, he keeps it all within his shell.

For example, when Waew Dao asks him why he won’t tell Mary that he’s Ai Joi, the boy from her childhood, Aidin replies that “memories are your personal treasure. If you can recall them, you remember. But if you can’t, you forget. No need to rekindle someone’s forgotten memories.” Those are some stoic, heart breaking words. He would rather suffer alone, assuming that Mary doesn’t remember him, while he tattoos every second of every memory of her in his mind and heart. It is so sweet to see him coming to her rescue whether it is revealing the true colors of the people around her – the factory manager and son, her cheating boyfriend, and her so called hiso best friends – or kicking some villains ass. While he treasures those memories, he has no desires to rekindle hers.

So it’s doubly more satisfying when she finds out who he is. All thanks to the box of old memories he keeps lying around, looking sappily at them every night before he goes to bed (ok, I’m exaggerating that part). They’re a collection of all the things Mayrisa had given to him, most importantly a stuffed cow named “Somwang” that she had given to him when he had to give up the real cow. Show does an excellent job using prop to move the story forward. Aidin will deny that he’s Ai Joi until the cows come home (heh), but when caught red handed, there’s no denying the truth.

Mary is furious that he would hide something like this from her, but she felt that the worst part is that he already judged her. He assumed that she wouldn’t remember him, when, she just didn’t recognize him. While she did not say that he grew up to be one hot piece of human specimen (those are my words), there was no way to compare the young Ai Joi to the grown up Aidin. Mary is upset he didn’t give her the opportunity to explain or to tell him what life has been like for her. In Aidin’s perspective, he just loves her, no matter how spoilt she may turn out to be, so he accepts the worst-case scenario. But he has no intentions to hurt her by not trying to make her remember, and by seeing that she ends up getting hurt over his actions, makes him very sorry. I think that’s adorable. They finally sit down, and he lets her tell him how she grew up without him. But in my head, I’m a bit sad that she never asked him how he grew up without her. Even though he does divulge the secret that Nu Lek is actually his niece, and not his daughter, and that they had to leave Gumpawapee to protect her.

“Hi-so Sa Orn” stands out because the show knows what kind of a story it wants to tell. Its confident writing lends itself to more than a romcom, but it tackles social hierarchy, discrimination and what it means to be a good person with some humor thrown in. For example, grandma has the biggest bias against “poor” people, or people who are not as rich as her. Her social status is only inclusive to a small group of people, and she’s so blinded by all that pump and flair. She truly believes that if you are a hi-so, then you are redeemable. It’s almost laughable that a woman of her age and station, is only just now getting the point. Due to her bias, and her blinded trust in the hiso people, she has hurt her own granddaughter. She ensures Mary makes friends with backstabbing hisos, she entrusts her hard-working factory to a manager that embezzles the company, and she challenges her opponents to the point they retaliate by taking her granddaughter down. All of these biases worked itself against her.

Grandma is especially so mean to Pinta and Aidin. She’s so quick in telling Aidin that he’ll never stand a chance with her granddaughter, and because she’s afraid that the two would fall in love or end up together, she secures an engagement/courting between Mary and M.L. Nopakun. Aidin doesn’t think he’ll end up with Mary due to their status differences and continues to pull himself away. I like how Aidin’s change in action, and grandma’s change in perspective happens simultaneously. Aidin realizes that couples who fight together stay together, and grandma learns that she needs to let go of her biases with poor people to gain true measure of happiness. Because being hi-so doesn’t mean the money you have or the clothes you wear, but whether you display admirable manners and morals. Which goes to say, we ordinary people, are classy too. Remember how you were taught that it’s what’s in the inside that counts? Well grandma finally gets it. We also see this story argument manifest in our second leads as well, who mirrors the conflict of Aidin and Mary’s.

The story does get somewhat bogged down during the middle half of the show due to the same villains trying to wreak havoc on our main characters’ lives, but there are clear and fair resolutions for the different plot points. I like that show does not leave any loose strands. Namely, it makes sense that Nu Lek isn’t Aidin’s real daughter because he is so one track minded about his love for Mayrisa that he would not settle down with someone else prior to finding out what happened to her. Also, he sacrifices a lot for his sister, since there is only them left in the family, it makes sense for him to take on the role of daddy to Nu Lek. And what a great daddy daughter duo. I live for their scenes together, and I’m a little sad that she might not call him Phor Din again, since she reconciled with her real dad. The villains objectives are greed and revenge, but I didn’t particular felt any warmth at all towards them until that scene with Nu Lek and her real dad’s wife. Like if she didn’t have a competitor, if her husband actually loves her and not pining after his old lover, she might have been a happy person. It’s also realistic that Waew Dao doesn’t want to be with her old lover anymore, she tells him that the love she had for him in the past is gone now, and only friendliness towards him remains. It’s the best kind of “revenge” if you will, for him to uproot her life and make her run away for so long, make her not be able to acknowledge her own daughter. He will have to live the rest of his life, knowing she’s the one that got away.

What is very clear as to why this show is so endearing to me, and why the ratings is so high, has absolutely to do with the chemistry between Kem and Maggi, and their romantic story that evolved from first love to one man’s unchanging love. There are so many great lines in this show that you will want to treasure and take out during a rainy day. Aidin is the best kind of pr’eks where you realize after everything he has done for Mary, that we still haven’t even scratched the surface of it. Even during the final minutes of the finale, we learn that when they were little, Ai Joi would not stop working or would not stop playing with Mayrisa, not because he was hardworking or energetic, but because he always wanted her to have fun. So he’ll play until she’s tired, until she gives up. He remembers the exact length of time since he has last seen her since Gumpawapee, he thinks about her every night as he looks through the treasures he keeps in a box and in his heart. We all want someone to remember and treasure us, but to know that he has always loved us more? Ah my heart, it swells. This show is 100 times, 1000 times more squeal worthy, because it’s Kem and Maggi playing Aidin and Mayrisa.

Mary earns her own stripes by fighting for her love, showing both Aidin and Grandma that all the money in the world couldn’t buy what she truly wants: that is Aidin. This is one evening gem you wouldn’t want to miss out, you have a newbie pr’ek Kem and evening actress Maggi in a story that will give you all the feels.

And good news for those looking for English Subtitles, Bitter Kisses is planning on subbing this. Please stalk her blog for updates! 

And of course the awesome OST: Watch it here.