“Sampatan Huajai,” also known as “Concession of Love” takes us into a new foray within the world of lucrative Birds Nest Trade, along with a high rolling hotel business world. Our hero, Naboon (Weir Sukullawat) owns Tham Island, the furthermost island on the Andaman Sea, off the coast of Phuket, where swiftlets (birdies) inhabit within its limestone caves. Naboon is called “Nai Hua” when he is on the island, directing the harvesting of the birds’ nest, so we will use his name and title interchangeably. This story opens during the second harvest of birds’ nest along the cavern walls, where birds nest climbers spend all day extracting white nests – made entirely by a bird’s saliva. It’s a fascinating, profitable trade, but also very dangerous to both the climbers – as they risk falling and breaking their necks – as well as to Nai Hua, due to thieves and poachers who will stop at nothing to steal the birds nest, a delicacy that is considered caviar of the east.
If Naboon procures the birds nest, Rattawan (Thisa Varitthisa) and family are shareholders within the birds’ nest distribution network. Rattawan or Wan hails from the richest family in Phuket, that dabbles in various businesses, she’s married to Paramet who runs a struggling hotel and they have a son named Manpoo together. When we meet Rattawan, she catches her husband in bed with his secretary, the cheating husband even makes eye contact with his wife and continues where he left off. Based on her calm reaction, this is not the first time she found out. As Rattawan retreats from the hotel room, she gets news that her father passed away. Her mother and younger brother decide to sell their shares in the birds’ nest business because mom felt that dad’s death was an act of karma. She did not want to make money off exploiting birds. There is a negative connotation to the birds’ nest business because many island owners tend to over farm and abuse the birds.
Paramet is against the family selling off their shares because birds nest business is lucrative, and he still wants a piece of that pie. He also owes millions in gambling debt and his makers are nipping at his heels. Days after Rattawan’s father’s funeral, her younger brother gets into a car accident on his way to sell off the shares and dies on impact. Shortly thereafter, Rattawan sets out to sell the damn shares to their business partner, Taogae Baan, but along the way, her life changes forever. Hired hands shot her right-hand woman, Rosokun, a distant relative whom her parents had taken under their wings and raised with Rattawan. Rotsukon’s blood splatters on Rattawan’s white blazer, then they kidnap Rattawan and son aboard their boat to Tham Island. Rattawan fights along the way but is no match to two men with a gun. A very long time later, the boat arrives to a faraway island with sea splashed caves. Rattawan manages to free her tied hands and instructs her son to make a run for it once they reach land.
Nai Hua and his watchmen save Rattawan and Manpoo, and upon interrogating both parties, the thugs lament that Rattawan willingly came along with them, while Rattawan claims she was kidnapped. Since the thugs are Nai Hua’s birds nest climbers (albeit sketchy people), Nai Hua refuses to make a call until he has all the evidences. He decides to keep Rattawan and Manpoo on the island until they fess up their identities, and until the pending storm eases up. It’s hurricane season. Meanwhile he stakes claim on Rattawan, announcing to the islanders that she is his woman, in order to keep the bottom dwellers from raping her. It’s an island where Nai Hua calls the shots and anyone who doesn’t follow his rules, take the high sea. Rattawan doesn’t trust the island owner nor his workers, so she hides her real name, relenting only that she’s a distant relative of the famous family of Phuket. Nai Hua’s internal lie detector sets off and he thinks she’s still not telling the truth, so the two play this push and pull of mistrust and bickering, their interactions will leave you hot and bothered and maybe a little frustrated in the best way possible. He takes her into his home and assigns her to manage his birds nest account as well as tend to the wounded at the island’s mini clinic. He knew the family name to be one of pristine reputation, but the fact that she’s smart and capable and holds herself very well, her story doesn’t add up to Nai Hua. If he is one thing, he is a man who suspects everything and dislikes making judgement calls based on slim evidence, or heresy.
In fact, we learn that Naboon became this way due to a tragic lesson back when he was a government official. His superior made a judgement based on defamation with no evidence and prompts Naboon to carry out the order to terminate an employee. The employee laments that he was innocent, and unable to withstand the shame, he takes his own life. Naboon is devastated and resigned from the position, opting to run the hotel and birds nest business. He has also been burned many times by people who have stolen from him, and by the person closest to him who could not endure the tough life on the island. It is no surprise that he is wary of people, especially one who seems to be harboring secrets.
The first half of this show excels in showing us through everyday interactions and life on the birds’ nest island, how trust, respect and love can flourish. We see from both sides of the perspective: Nai Hua’s side, who promises to return Rattawan safely to her family and hoping to keep his heart and life intact, while Rattawan gets a close call time and time again until she must make a survival decision. Whether she opts to stay on the island or risk sailing a boat in the sea, her chances of survival were even. Rattawan bravely, but maybe stupidly, steals a boat (she has never sailed before) into the stormy season. She doesn’t make it far when the boat dies, leaving her and Manpoo in the middle of the sea. Nai Hua goes after her and just as he closes in, Rattawan’s boat rattles and dumps her into the sea. Nai Hua relentlessly fishes her out and saves her from drowning. Manpoo sees “uncle” giving mouth to mouth to Mom and makes sure he tells her when she finally comes to. (Let’s not forget the stolen, sleeping kiss that Nai Hua took when she was sleeping and holding him.)
Nai Hua scolds Rattawan for doing something so stupid, but Rattawan takes the wind out of his sail by thanking him for saving her life. This is what I love about this couple, the other person could say something so rational (but with a bite), and instead of being defensive, the other person would say something unexpected. One of my favorite things about this show is the dialogue, how they learn things about each other through what they see and hear, and then catch each other off guard with their perceptive words. Deep down we all want someone to understand us for who we are, so when the person we like analyzes us so well, we are left kinda speechless. And when this happens, our walls crumble, our defenses weaken, and we let that person in by bearing our soul. In this case, Rattawan feels safe with Nai Hua, he’s kind, a gentleman, a better father figure to Manpoo than his own father, and through how he respects his livelihood (birds nest) that he would rather break even or make a small profit than to over farm the birds nest and risk abusing the bird, Rattawan finally tells him who she is. And let me tell you, that was an amazing set up.
Nai Hua becomes her trusted advisor surrounding elements of her kidnapping. Until one day through a discussion about sea bandits – who kidnap women to rape them and throw their bodies into the sea – Rattawan realizes that she wasn’t kidnapped. She realizes that the whole intent of taking her to a faraway island is to actually rape her and then toss her body into the deep sea. In horror, Rattawan pieces together that someone was out to murder her. Nai Hua advises that she should first evaluate the people closest to her and who would serve to benefit the most from her death. The likeliest culprits are her husband, and her two “adopted” sisters, Rotsukon and Kanarot. Rattawan believes her husband to be responsible, but Nai Hua encourages her not to set her mind on someone without proper evidence. At this point, both know that her relationship with her husband is almost nil, but the fact of the matter remains, she is still married. So they would never consider any improper actions with each other. Rattawan is attached to him emotionally and is falling for him, but Nai Hua refuses to have any hope because if there is a chance that her husband isn’t responsible for hiring someone to murder her, they could still get back together. Despite those intense feelings and small hope, Nai Hua has already given his heart to her.
Running a birds’ nest business is no walk in the park. Nai Hua’s own distant relative betrayed him and worked with the thieves to rob Nai Hua’s birds nest harvest. But even through this tribulation, we see that Nai Hua isn’t greedy. He doesn’t want to put the birds through another harvest, he will deal with the losses. The relative isn’t too sad about that because he thinks Nai Hua is already rich, even if he took a loss from the birds’ nest, he still made profit from the hotel. Which he uses as an excuse for plundering his own relative.
Rattawan feels badly about Nai Hua’s loss and offers to make up for it with her own money. Nai Hua doesn’t take it well, because he helped them because it was the right thing to do, not that he wanted anything back in return. Rattawan tries to gauge her own worth by offering him what she thinks she’s worth, though that came off badly too because he says that she’s used to giving men money, but he’s not used to taking a woman’s money. Ouch. Nai Hua apologizes for his brash words but Rattawan agrees with him, which makes Nai Hua feel even worse. He tells her he is sorry again. Rattawan says that with her husband, she gave money out of duty but with Nai Hua, she wants to repay the debt of gratitude. Nai Hua asks whether she wants to repay him so that she could square things away, end things neatly so they don’t have to acknowledge each other when they see each other again.
Rattawan tells him that is not the case, she couldn’t even repay the debt with her life, she just wants to help him. She adds that he lost profit but gained her as a burden, she just wants to be more valuable than the birds nest that was stolen. Nai Hua relents that he will see her to the coast, but he can’t show his face at her house because he doesn’t want to make the husband uncomfortable. Rattawan understands the danger of sailing with the birds’ nest and tells him as much, that she may not even make it to the coast. Nai Hua promises that she will be safe, he will make sure of it. Rattawan starts to tear up though because she is afraid to die, to leave her son behind. Nai Hua pulls her into his arms and comforts her, like the sweet, sweet hero that he is.
The weasel relative finds out that Rattawan is an heiress and backstabs Nai Hua some more by calling on Rattawan’s mother. He lies that Rattawan and Manpoo were kidnapped and held captive by bandits and drug dealers on Tham Island. He urges the mother to call the police. Thankfully Rattawan had called her mother a few weeks prior that she is safe and sound and will make her trip back in a couple of weeks. Her adopted sisters are logical minded as they tell mom that they ought to believe Rattawan over some random person calling to report the news.
Nai Hua decides not to reveal himself when he takes Rattawan home. He asks his navy friend Captain Patai to return Rattawan and son, while assigning his own trusted watchmen to stay with Rattawan and protect her at all cost. I love it when the watchman says that Nai Hua never asks them to help him in his personal problems, but because he loves Rattawan more than he loves himself, he had asked them to protect her. Another cute harmless misunderstanding is that Rattawan thinks Nai Hua has a girlfriend in Phuket who’s running his hotel, though the Khun Nai Nong he speaks of his little sister.
Through the tumultuous fight with the thieves who plundered half of Nai Hua’s birds nest harvest, and through the months of time spent on the island, the time to sail back to the coast of Phuket is upon us. I did not realize that I don’t want their island stint to end, I realize I did not want to sail back to the coast of Phuket and face the city, face the reality. Because like Rattawan, we loathe to say goodbye to the lived-in moments, the shirtless Nai Hua.
On the last day on the island, Rattawan is sad because Nai Hua doesn’t seem to want to see her when they get to the city. He reassures her that he will see to her safety until the end, that he is not abandoning her. Though in his own mind, Nai Hua believes that Rattawan must be excited to go home to see her loved ones, since she has asked to go home every day from the day they met. But anyone who sees Rattawan crying knows those are not happy tears.
They are in the wooded area when she pulls on the tail end of his shirt to stop him from walking away. Nai Hua warns her not to hold on because he’ll have a hard time turning away. But even as he continues walking away, those tears stopped him. He asks if she’s going to keep crying the way she did when she first arrived. Rattawan is surprised that he remembers the first day she was here and Nai Hua says he remembers everything about her. Kyaa. As he faces her, he thanks her for coming to the island, that even if bad reasons brought her here, he hoped she gained some good memories too, that she would miss this place too. Rattawan tells him that she would never forget this place, and that she’s grateful to meet him. Tear.
Show does a wonderful job taking us on a journey on the island – those scenes could be one whole lakorn – for many a lakorns, but for Sampatan Huajai, that is just half of a full concession. The show’s main theme is greed and we watch how greed is introduced into the story in the first half. As we foray into the second half, we shall see how greed manifests itself, how Rattawan bravely faces them to uncover the culprit behind her attempted murder, and her brother’s murder. I could not wish for a stronger ally than in Nai Hua, our sweet Naboon, who would sail to the end of the Andaman sea and back for her (and her son).
Thus, it is time to say hello to our fancy clothes, our cleaned-up-nicely hero, who is as smooth as silk as he back our heroine with flanks of protection, an entourage. But as she meets her husband again for the first time in a long time, seeing him as a potential murderer, she grips her purse like the final lifeline. Nai Hua simply could not help himself than by stepping in front of her to stop the husband from the unwanted touch. It may appear unintentional, but it was a swoony move all the same. If looks could kill, we are all dead. Kyaa Weir!
See you in the second half, in Part 2 Review of “Sampatan Huajai”: City Dwelling.
(This review encompasses episodes 1-7)
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