Now that five episodes have already aired for Krong Kam, it is a good time as any to weigh in. Krong Kam is a lakorn about a mother and her daughter in law. It’s an unconventional, female protagonist lead storytelling that focuses on the flaws instead of the perfection, a lakorn that strives to show how choices will produce karmic affect, and also how terribly difficult it is to break out of a mold, once you’ve already been caged in. It is a mother of lakorns, so let’s discuss the story, as we know it so far.
Brought to us by ActArt Production, this lakorn has Mai Charoenpura as Yoi, the mother in law from hell. She’s a hardworking Thai woman who marries into a traditional Chinese family, and she has vowed to personally see to it that her family of six honors the Bae ancestors. She has worked from the ground up to amass a fortune, the family businesses consist of a one stop shop in a town called Chum Saeng, a factory mill that her husband runs, and various farmlands and properties across Thailand. She’s the Alpha, the Queen Bee, the Boss Bitch, and perhaps even part she-Hulk if you happen to cross her. She runs her family of five men (four sons and a wonderful husband) like she manages her business; everyone walks to the beat of her drum.
But one day Yoi encounters a major conflict that will forever change her family dynamic: a daughter in law that not only isn’t of her choosing, but is a prostitute as well, played by the star of the show, Bella Ranee. Her eldest son, Achai (Phet Thakrit) brings home a pregnant Renu, and right off the bat, we can see how very naïve and clueless he is (even if he is willing to suffer his mother’s wrath). Some of the mistakes he made is to ill prepare both his wife and mother. I don’t know what he was hoping to find when he comes home, but a welcoming party is not a Yoi forte. Not only this, we find out that he is also engaged to a woman named Pilai (Pear Pichapa) and has sent her a letter to call off the engagement. But the story isn’t about him; he is merely the catalyst that brings us the fight between Yoi and Renu, and we watch how these two opponents duke it out.
Yoi’s first defense is an offense and proclaims that Achai will not get a penny of his inheritance. It is customary that the family fortune falls on the eldest son in a Chinese family. She sends Achai and his new wife to live in an abode behind the factory mill, and she proceeds to get her ordained second son, Atong (Champ Chanatip) to leave monkhood and marry the woman that his older brother had discarded. She is willing to allow the bride to set her condition, which is that the second son will get the shop if she agrees to marry. Being the second child who is filial and always willing to please mom, Atong agrees despite already in love with a young caregiver named Jantha (Yeewha Preeyakarn). The affection is mutual and the two have been seeing each other behind mom’s back albeit innocently, but prior to ordaining, Atong never had the guts to confess to his mother.
Yoi is determined to shun her daughter in law and is convinced that Renu isn’t pregnant with Achai’s baby, thus she sets out to unmask Renu and get rid of her once and for all. The thing with Yoi is that what you see is what you get. She fights in the open and she means exactly what she says. This reminds me of a saying that “she has a bad mouth but a heart of gold”. Like you want to think that she’s doing all of this with her kids’ best interest at heart, that she just loves them and cares about them so much. Perhaps that is the intent behind Yoi’s character, but unfortunately with Mai’s portrayal, it’s not sympathetic. The acting is over the top and lacks nuance. Yoi would go from zero to a hundred in a split second and you won’t know what hit you until she’s sputtering mad. But her character is straightforward in a sense that she’s not happy about her kids’ future unless she’s the one to plan it.
Her disgust towards Renu is ironic. In a way, Renu’s character runs parallel to Yoi’s (minus the prostitution). Both are stubborn and set in their ways, and are very hardworking and business minded. Perhaps the attributes she sees in Renu is something she detests in herself. The big question is if Yoi would ever come to accept Renu. But the thing is, Renu isn’t our typical female protagonist. She has gone through a lot of adversity in life, and she has come to understand what she is capable of. That is a great strength in a heroine, however, her biggest flaw is the bad decisions she ends up making to get to where she’s at. Her backstory is that she was raped by her brother-in-law, and ended up with a child. Due to family conflict at home, Renu was asked to leave while her mother raised her son as her own. Renu’s child calls her “sister” instead of “mom.” Then, Renu becomes a prostitute at Lotus Bar in a military town where she ends up meeting Achai.
When we learn of how Renu and Achai fell in love, it is shot in almost a dreamlike state, a prostitute manages to make a well off soldier fall in love with her and she can leave her dirty past behind. He’s willing to accept her and she’s even carrying his child! It is one of those stories that only happen in the movies, but it is happening in Renu’s life. She couldn’t believe her own fortune. But as we know with Renu, people who are without opportunities must make their own opportunities. Renu takes a backdoor, the secret squirrel route if you will, to ensure that the man she loves would love and accept her unconditionally, because she doesn’t have the confidence that she alone could make this happen. So Renu uses black magic to charm Achai. We don’t know if Achai is head over heels in love with Renu because he’s genuinely in love with her or if it’s because of the black magic. I like that show attempts to address this. The shaman indicated that the charm has an expiration date and that the only way for her husband to remain in love with her is up to her. She must show him her love, trust and honesty.
But Renu is her own worse enemy. She has opportunities to stay the straight and narrow, to stop doing bad things, but when push comes to shove, Renu operates on fear and chooses the shortcut, or whatever gives her maximum results. Thus in so many ways, Renu is a pitiful character and you want to be sympathetic to her plight, but she shows us why she’s gonna have to pay for her karma, like for the time she uses black magic, for lying about her pregnancy, for creating a miscarriage, etc, etc. At times she wants to be accepted by Yoi, but when faced with the challenge, she uses tactics to make Yoi look bad so that she could look good/pitiful, which comes off as spiting Yoi. Granted, Yoi is always at 100 and she’s a hard pill to swallow, but Renu’s sarcastic or spite doesn’t help her own cause, it makes me wonder if she’s genuine. It’s hilarious how she doles out advice but can’t even get her own life together. Kisses has coined that as being a hypocrite. I like Bella though, and I think she is doing a way better job than Mai. So I’m still rooting for Renu to realize that it’s ok to be vulnerable and to do the right thing.
There is one person who is the sunshine in this dark show, that is Asa, played by our very own James Jirayu, as the third son. I mentioned to Greta the other day that it often feels like James is playing himself! He’s the only person who manages to reach both Renu and Yoi, in his own inexplicable way. With some words or a look, James renders both Renu and Yoi into admitting their true feelings or confessing something they never tell anyone else. I feel like Asa is that moral compass in the show, or society’s mirror- that if you do or say something bad, when you look at Asa, you can see that reflecting back at you. Although he never judges, he does make you realize how you badly you are acting (literally and figuratively).
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room though. This show is heart breaking. For one, Jiranee (it’s a name coined for James and Bella Ranee) still have great chemistry whenever they are on screen together, though in this show they are just friends. Asa wants to see his Sor (sister in law) accepted by his mother, and is always cheering her on since his brother is in the military. He takes it upon himself to ensure she has what she needs, though remaining neutral when it comes to the conflict with his mother. Their natural chemistry just makes it all the more painful because they’re not a romantic couple in the show. Lastly, the fact that love and life in this show just doesn’t come hand in hand is pretty heart breaking. Renu-Achai struggle to be together, Atong marries the woman he doesn’t love, Asa has an unrequited love with Atong’s ex girlfriend and now Yoi wants him to marry a woman who loves another man. We shall see how the relationships unfold.
It all comes back full circle to Yoi and Renu and their karma. People make mistakes in life but being a good person means you choose to make better choices today and tomorrow. Yoi believes all of the good she is doing in life will make up for her big, regretful mistake she did in the past. But what did the Shaman say? Merit is merit and karma is karma. Doing more in one doesn’t square things away in the other. You still have to meet your makers. I hope Renu learns that she can’t keep making bad decisions, hoping for good results before it’s too late. If we know anything from the lakorn gods and karma, they are unforgiving.
The story is compelling and it’s a breezy watch since we have multiple characters, relationships and conflicts. It’s not your typical romance lakorn, after all, this is a lakorn about mothers and their daughter in laws. Men are just side acts at this time, trying to maintain the peace, while a war goes on around them. And for that, I applaud this show for centering a story on female protagonists and giving us something different to mull over. But Show, please throw us a bone every now and then too.