NDFD Episode 10: Greta’s Babble on James Ji’s (Superb) Acting Skills
Posted on November 4, 2019
So today, I don’t think we can call this a coffee talk. Readers, be warned. This is actually my fangirling piece for this whole series. I will try my best not to spaz and be as objective as possible (operative word is “try”). But – come on. Let’s call a spade a spade. Episode 10 of Nueng Dao Fah Diew (One Land, One Sky) showcases James Ji’s acting skills and shows how far he’s improved since his first lakorn.
First, let’s have a quick recap from where we ended at Episode 9. Yuern, Aok Pra Sri Khanthin’s servant, discovers that he isn’t really a eunuch and tells Aok Luang Srimanoraj. The jealous eunuch and his posse coax Aokya Wang to start an inquisition. Seeing that they’re trapped in a dire situation, Nan decides to take the bullet and admits that indeed, he is a man masquerading as a eunuch – and likewise fabricates a story of how he is the lover of the two other eunuchs, Khun Thepchamnan and Khun Thepraksa – all for Khanthong’s sake, so that he may at least come out of it alive.
To sort this whole dilemma and to better understand this particular plot point, let’s look at the bottom line of the root and the solution to this current predicament that our heroes are facing. Ultimately, it all actually boils down to LOVE. As we all know, “Love” is the thing that fuels lakorns, so to speak. Yet in NDFD, we get to see different forms of this love, and not just the mainstream romantic love that we see so often in lakorns.
Let me break it down for you guys. To start, let’s remember what started the chain of events to begin with– it’s romantic love between Khanthong and Mangmao. Although it seems one-sided for now, Khanthong’s growing feelings for Mangmao are so intense that it triggers Yuern’s insane jealousy. It results in Yuern seducing Khanthin – only to find out his secret – and thereafter, drives her to betray her benefactor. The parallel between Khanthong’s innocent love for Mangmao, and Yuern’s lustful longing for Khanthong makes the end result even more tragic. The former gives life, while the latter brings death. More of that later – but first, let’s focus on the other form of love that is highlighted in this episode.
After the tables were turned against them, Khanthong’s only way out is his best friend’s sacrifice. Literally, Nan choses to throw his life away so that Khanthong can live. It’s again contrasted with the relationship between Thepchamnan and Thepraksa. Khanthong and Nan are best friends, and Thepchamnan and Thekpraksa are supposedly bosom buddies as well – yet the latter duo found themselves at the verge of killing each other – because they unknowingly shared a lover – and thus they remain pitiful till the very end. Again we see a pure form of love between two friends, Khanthong and Nan, vis-à-vis a twisted one, among the two eunuchs and their paramour, which more or less is governed more by lust than by love.
Notably, Khanthong did not command or even think of having Nan lay down his life for him. In fact, he wanted to do everything to take the blame for himself. But to add to the tragedy, Nan, not only diverts Aokya Wang’s wrath to himself, he likewise dissuades Khanthong from saving him and putting his sacrifice to waste – all because of the next form of love – Love for the land. Ultimately, Nan believes that Khanthong can do their mission successfully, and so the latter must live, even if he should die to save his life. Better for him to die so Khanthong can live, rather than have the two of them die in vain. The real heartbreak here is how for once, it is Khanthong who “selfishly” wants to veer away from the mission objective for a very personal reason – Nan is his best friend, his only friend who has been with him since childhood.
The scene between Khanthong and Nan is eerie and yet beautifully made. Khanthong’s body language in this scene shows anger, perhaps at the enemy, at Nan, and perhaps even anger towards his own self. Yet his eyes tell a more complex story.
It was wonderful how much emotion this scene evoked, despite the background being so dark and having our two characters talk with bars between them. The tight shots show nothing but Khanthong’s eyes, blocked by cloth and bars – and yet “boxing” only highlighted the core of his character. Khanthong, for the most part of the lakorn is hiding his identity, and his whole persona as Khanthin is created as a mask for Khanthong. It is only in this scene that we see Khanthong once again, but still, he is shrouded in darkness (except for James’s incredibly white, almost luminous legs of course… but that’s another story.) Even so, he shines, and what little we see of Khanthong permeates and tugs tightly at our heartstrings. He starts off as cool and calculated, with his eyes dead set on the target – to free Nan. Yet when Nan says he won’t be able to free him, he unleashes his anger, showing clearly that the usually level headed Khanthong is furious enough to throw caution to the wind and do everything, anything, to free his friend. Yet when Nan breaks down and cries, but steels himself and tells Khanthong of what they must do for the country, we see the utter torment inside Khanthong, as he is unable to let his best friend, his only friend, die. He leaves with empty eyes, as though Nan’s death sentence killed a part of him as well. He knew that Nan was right and that there was nothing he can do to wing a win-win situation.
This dungeon scene can be viewed with Khanthong’s first scene in mind. Both scenes are shot with the concept of darkness, but surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to see Khanthong, in his truest form, with his glistening tears. Perhaps the background is a metaphor for the darkness in Khanthong’s life for he was born into a tragic fate that he had no control over. But in both cases, we see a glimpse of Khanthong, the real Khanthong, first before he even donned his disguise, and again when he ditched the eunuch robes to save his best friend.
At the beginning, he lost his father, and despite having all the calmness and clarity of a monk, he still showed vulnerability as his tears flowed in the darkness. A monk, after all, is still a human who feels pain of loss. Here in Episode 10 on the other hand, Khanthong is back from where he started – he was losing his friend who was with him from long ago, from that time when he was still not in the palace, and perhaps since that time when his family and his life was still whole. The anguish is more raw in here, for he is now more aware of the injustice being suffered by his loved ones – and also by himself. Yet just the same, it ends in the same manner – Khanthong had to cry and suffer in silence.
This is an emotion, which I feel, James has mastered well. Restraint. His first role as Khun Chai Puttipat of the Jutathep series had him playing a nerd who was stopping his heart from falling in love. That juvenile cutesy portrayal is now magnified in his role as Khanthong, where instead of suppressing puppy love for the sake of his reputation as an intellectual, this time as Khanthong, he had to suppress the urge to get what is due him – to fight for the happiness that was robbed from him, for the sake of the land. Even as the feelings were bursting from inside his heart, he had to hold everything in, for the sake of accomplishing his mission. Though Chai Pat is relatable for having that emotion we all must have felt once (i.e. having a crush and keeping it in), Khanthong’s hustle is much deeper – perhaps, his conflict reflected the conflict of the Thai People in those trying times. He was an innocent who had to suffer loss because of injustice cauused by selfish nobles and pointless wars. Yet he had to live and had to continue the fight, his loved ones’ deaths notwithstanding.
With the need to portray this arguably deeper and more complex feeling, it’s worth noting how the director of NDFD chose to cover his face show only Khanthong’s eyes. This is different from Chai Pat who had to wear spectacles, which somehow formed part of the character’s charm but hid parts of James’s expressive eyes. But even so, the improvement in James’s acting is shown from this comparison alone. If before, his cuteness from wearing those glasses downplayed his lack of acting experience and thus made his portrayal of Chai Pat still memorable, here in NDFD, particularly in episode 10, James isn’t actually portrayed as cute at all (Note: ok, I lie, of course he’s cute. James is always cute, even when he is being handsome. *end of biased motherhen interjection*) instead, the focus is on his eyes and how it works to move you with complex emotions that it shows from within. I am proud to say that this big leap is so noticeable that any James Ji fan should watch this lakorn for this fact alone.
Anyway, it’s not only James who delivered in this scene. Phet was superb too. I humbly opine that James wouldn’t have been able to pull this off, had Phet not done his part. The most gut-wrenching part of this scene, for me, which the two characters were able to execute excellently, is when Nan tells Khanthong that he appreciates what Khanthong has done. In a few words, Nan was basically able to sum up how much he knew his best friend. He knew that Khanthong went out of his character to save him, yet just the same, he was sure that Khanthong wouldn’t do things any other way. Nan knew that Khanthong will save him no matter what. He believed in Khanthong and their friendship. Thus, Nan was happy to play his part in the grand scheme of things. Khanthong was worth his sacrifice and he was glad to die for his best friend. He gives him the ultimate threat – that he will stop thinking of him as his friend if he chooses to save him over saving the country. With this threat, we learn just how much Khanthong values his friendship with Nan as well.
Phet is a good foil for James in this scene. Actually, to call him a foil isn’t actually apt. Both James and Phet shone equally in this scene. I opine that the exchange between them couldn’t have been as effective had it been someone else. In earlier episodes, we see Phet overacting his gayness, and even being too candid, almost comical in his crush for Mae Pao. But in this scene, Phet made Nan so human and relatable and yet so noble in an instant. It wasn’t that Nan was brave. He was actually afraid to die. The way his face brightened up when he saw Khanthong, but he quivered when he admonished him to leave him and let him die for the land, is so heartbreaking. The tragedy of his character is that indeed, he is a secondary character, who was “disposable” so to speak – and he played it so, from episode 1-9, that is. Yet, when it was his time to go, he went with a big bang. His exit is made so memorable that we realize just how instrumental he really is in the story – thus making him not-just-a-secondary-character, but a key player.
Nan, like Khanthong played a dual role in the story. While Khanthong was good at pretending since the beginning, Nan was the one who struggled. As a metaphor, Khanthong is the star student, while Nan was the one who barely passed. That’s why he overacted when he was in eunuch mode, and he was really candid to the point of silliness in his puppy love with Mae Pao. But just when he was about to go, like a hummingbird, Nan starts to perform so well that even when he was still playing that dual role, he was suddenly so good at “faking it”. That same duality, we see in this scene when he is trying to be brave despite everything.
Nan takes this a step further when it’s actually Mae Pao who comes to visit him in prison. Here, we have romantic love once again. The innocent love that bloomed between Nan and Mae Pao needed some closure, especially considering that Mae Pao had not entertained these feelings before, as she thought Khun Jitjaipak was just another (girl) friend.
Nan’s character is really quite tragic, even more tragic than Khanthong. He had to pretend to be gay to be closer to Mae Pao, and yet when she finally learned that he was a manly man, he had to pretend to be an asshole so she’ll forget about him and move on after his death. It is true what he said; there was no point in her knowing whether there really was something that bloomed between them – he was going to die, a shamed man. Thus, instead of letting her remember him fondly, with pain of his passing, Nan chooses to just hurt her now with his lies, to save her from anguish later on. Thankfully, Mae Pao has more insight and we later on learn towards the end how she really felt about Nan, his mockery notwithstanding.
With all the drama already going on, the villains crank up the wheels of catharsis by serving more doom at our heroes’ plates. In order to trap Khanthin, they decide to let him levy the punishment on Nan, since he holds the head eunuch position. Instead of giving in however, Nan warns Khanthong with his fierce gaze and Khanthong agrees to go through with their plan and keep their disguises and alibis as intact as possible.
Khanthong and Nan continue on with their disguise but we now see how dangerous their position is all along. One of them literally had to cause the other to die so that at least, one of them may live. There is no fun and games now, only danger and heartbreak.
Of course, our villains couldn’t figure out Nan and Khanthong’s plan, though it was actually pretty obvious. The reason why the villains’ eyes are blocked is simple – they can’t fathom how someone, anyone, would choose to lay down his life for his ally. Our treacherous villains are all about saving their own hides. Thus, the impromptu plan that Nan thought of did not even reach their farthest imagination.
At the very least, the villains unknowingly got what they wanted as Khanthong is tortured even more by the sight of his best friend dying by his own hands. Whether it is for his own punishment or for punishing Nan for letting him go through this hell, we don’t know for sure. But Khanthong looks at Nan unblinking, not even stopping the flogging even when Aokya Wang was already the one who told him that he may stop it.
And just when you think it cannot get any worse…well. It does! Mangmao sees her friend, Mae Pao, in utter desolation and thereafter learns about the flogging and decides to confront Aok Pra Sri about it. To Mangmao’s mind, not only did Khanthin cause Mae Pao’s sadness, he likewise (coldheartedly) hurt his own best friend.
Mangmao comes storming in, hoping to give Aok Pra Sri a dose of her unfiltered scolding to put him in his place. She expresses her anger at Khanthin for being so ruthless. She goes further by saying that she must be wary about Khanthin for her own sake too, because if Khanthin can do that to his so-called-friend, Khanthin might just let her die as well.
Mangmao’s statement brings tears to Khanthong’s eyes, despite all the effort he exerted to numb his heart. We don’t know for sure what he felt at that moment. Perhaps he got hurt that Mangmao thought so little of him, despite the fact that she was the only one in the palace who knew him well. Or perhaps he just remembered how he had caused pain to his own friend. But my personal interpretation of why Khanthong cried in this scene (on cue after Mangmao said she might as well beware of dying), was that when Khanthong looked at Mangmao, he realized that just like Nan who was innocent but had to die for their mission, Mangmao might be put in danger, to the point of her dying, just because of her closeness to him. He wanted nothing more than to have her by his side, but the sad truth is, her closeness to him might just indeed cause her death – and it’s something he would totally blame himself for as well. To put it succinctly – Khanthong wouldn’t be able to bear it should Mangmao die. Just as it is written in Khanthong’s song, he had to keep this love, this overwhelming love he felt for Mangmao inside his heart and never let her know for fear of putting her in a dangerous situation.
In any case, Mangmao realizes her error in judgment and realizes that Khanthin is suffering inside. As Khanthong earlier mentioned, Mangmao’s good trait is that she quickly repents when she realizes that she has done wrong and makes amends. Mangmao wipes off Khanthong’s tears and thereafter encourages him to rest and smile, even just a little. It shows that Mangmao genuinely cares about Khanthong and she is his only, yet most needed ally now in the palace.
Mangmao and Khanthong’s scene is but a short reprieve from the tragedy that is up ahead. First, Srimanoraj drunkenly beats Khanthin with a vase, for the suffering he had caused – well what the hell, Srimanoraj! If only you knew the suffering Khanthong is going through! Anyway, Khanthin is saved by Aokya Wang who quickly orders Srimanoraj’s arrest, and treats Khanthin’s wound. After that, he delivers the worst news of all. Aokya Phollathep ordered that Khanthin be in charge of giving the signal for the eunuchs’ execution, and we all could only imagine how painful that must be.
Aokya Wang warily observes Khanthin’s reaction too for he still has doubts despite everything that has happened.
Khanthong desperately tries to save Nan, but the latter tells him that it was impossible to escape, with him barely able to move. Nan reminds him that they will both die in their futile attempts to escape. It was better for him to be the only one to die, so that Khanthong can continue on with his mission.
They go through the pillory as Nan is shamed by the very people he chose to protect, the common folk. Khanthong suffers in silence once more for the injustice suffered by his friend. The ultimate sacrifice on his part was to go through with the plan and to live in order to continue the mission, while keeping a tough exterior. Mae Pao likewise suffers the same fate, as she cries for Nan, even though he acted like a total jerk in their last meeting. Perhaps that’s what made it worse, as despite everything, she still could not forget the fond memories she had with him.
The die is cast, and Nan’s execution proceeds without a hitch. Khanthin gives the signal and the undertakers proceed with cutting off Nan’s head.
With his death, Nan becomes one of the unnamed heroes who gave their lives to the land. His name is written not in stone or in scrolls to be passed down from one generation to the next. Instead, his name is written in the land, with his blood. The Thai’s may not know that he even existed, but his legacy, as is the legacy of all those unnamed heroes before him, is the very existence of the country itself.
Again, the director does the actual execution artistically, showing Nan’s beheading as reflected in Khanthong’s unblinking eyes.
It is ironic how Khanthong’s true self was always shown in the darkness, and Khanthin was always in the light with no room to hide his inner grief. Khanthin winces ever so slightly as the tears fall from his eyes at the sight of his friend’s death. Only he among all the other people who witnessed his beheading knew that Nan was doing a noble deed in his death yet he couldn’t do anything to stop it, much less to let the people know that he was no traitor but a hero. All he can do was stare emptily with the tears streaming down his face for the loss of his friend, and the land’s loss of a good patriot.
This scene is really outstanding, in my opinion, and I say this as a James Ji super fan. It’s hard to say how non-fans feel, but come on! You must be a rock not to be moved by this scene. See, James is a “crier”. He cries in almost every acting stint he has been in. But each time, his tears take a different form, depending on the situation. He can cry with a smile, as he did in the movie, Timeline, or be like a crybaby, in that infamous scene of his in Ruk Sud Rit. This isn’t the only scene that James had where had to cry over a loved one’s death. He did so too in Game Sanaeha (spoiler alert) yet those who have seen it would surely agree with me that his tears in this scene and that scene are very different. It isn’t his first time to do this whole silent-tears-dynamic, he did so too countless of times in Padiwarada (Lol! Surprisingly, tough man sheriff is the most crybaby character of all). Khanthong’s tears in Khanthin’s face packs a punch because in this scene, you can really feel the emptiness and defeat inside of him, like he was already emotionally exhausted even as he tried to steel himself and keep his masquerade. Khanthong’s anguish is so deep, that it is not only unfathomable, but likewise unrelatable. When I look at him, and see those tears, all I can say is, “damn, this guy got it worse than me. It sucks to be him for sure.” I have no idea what internalization James had to do to carry out this scene. I mean, I think he pretty much grew up in a normal, loving environment. Yet to be able to draw this kind of emotion as an actor, I think James really worked hard on this. Sure he was a natural as Asa in Krong Karm, but when he has to do something completely foreign to him, I think it looks more challenging.
Again, the beauty in James’s acting as Khanthong is that his emotion goes from high to low and vise versa. This is highlighted in the scene after – where Khanthong goes home, tired and defeated, only to be welcomed by none other than Mangmao. Her appearance is like a balm to his heart, he actually breaks into a smile (and suddenly he’s so happy he wants to cry again! *sweatdrop*). He is so sad and yet suddenly he has a reason to continue breathing.
Mangmao brings him food so he can eat, clearly showing how much she cared for his welfare. Khanthong on the other hand, despite not having any appetite wants to oblige her nonetheless. This is when Mangmao whips out her surprise – Salika’s favorite food: Winter melon with salted fish dip. Khanthong goes back to that time in his childhood when everything was bright and happy, and suddenly, things don’t seem as bad; and it’s all because of this woman for whom he cares so deeply.
The silliness of it all is actually quite funny, yet heartwarming at the same time. How can a piece of fruit (vegetable?) make everything right in Khanthong’s world? Yet that simple gesture from Mangmao did the trick, and Khanthong is deeply grateful.
Actually, this part is a loophole. Khanthong should have already figured that Mangmao knew he and Salika were related as he felt joy in eating Salika’s favorite food. But no matter – let’s cut Khanthong some slack as he just experienced the worst day of his life.
Khanthong volunteers to bring Mangmao back to Kromkhun Vimol’s palace as she stayed to late to cheer him up. Mangmao says that he didn’t have to, but the gentleman in Khanthong remains firm and reasons out that she might get scolded and he didn’t want to be blamed for it.
Love cures deep wounds too, I guess. The tragedy of Nan’s passing is made bearable with this blooming love between Khanthong and Mangmao. Aokya Wang sees them from behind the shadows, and his suspicion is heightened further.
From far away, Phraya Tak and company learn of Nan’s sacrifice and are deeply disheartened. Phraya Tak vows to bring Panhan with him the next time he goes to Ayodhaya in order to pay respects to his grave. Meanwhile, the culprit of everything, Yuern, overhears the brush with death that Aok Pra Sri Khanthin had. Yet while she still remains angry at him, she wishes to be the one who would kill him with her own hands.
Another villain wishes to use his hands – to have his hands on Mangmao that is. Prince Chate is intent on getting back his compensation for the favor he gave to Mangmao and Mae Pao (to see Nan in the dungeon, one last time.) For this purpose, Mangmao decided to stick close to Kromkhun Vimol in order to escape Prince Chate’s grasp.
Nevertheless, Jao Jom Phen meddles and devises a plan for Prince Chate to finally make Mangmao agree to be his concubine. Basically, the plot was for Prince Chate to plant armed men to harm Set Thee Ming so that Prince Chate can come and “save them” so that Mangmao can owe him a bigger debt of gratitude.
Set Thee Ming realizes the plan, and his love for his daughter drove him to want to kill himself. Ironically, just when Mangmao finally hits the jackpot and earns the favor of the prince of the land, Set Thee Ming realizes the fault in his logic all along. He cannot bear to have Mangmao married against her will. Even should she be a concubine, she would be marrying a man no better than the bully, Ai Kla.
Mangmao tearfully bids farewell to Kromkhun Vimol who had likewise protected her all along, as she loved her like a daughter. Mae Pao likewise deeply regrets what they have done. Mangmao accedes to her fate, but not with one last act of mischief, as a troublemaker.
Jaojom Phen sends Luern to make sure that Mangmao is offered to Prince Chate without a hitch…. Yet…. Our eunuch in shining turban comes and saves the day.
Khanthong comes up with a plan to save Mangmao. He slits his arm to put blood on her skirt, to show Prince Chate that she is menstruating. (Per tradition, it was bad luck to offer a girl as a concubine when she was menstruating.) Side note: What is with these period lakorns and menstruation?! *Sweatdrop*
Prince Chate seethes in fury as Aokya Wang gloats. But no one can be more elated than Khanthong who successfully saves his love from a sorry fate.
Aokya Wang is happy that he still has a chance with Mangmao, to which Khanthong cockily replies that Prince Chate’s loss isn’t necessarily Aokya Wang’s gain. Aokya Wang says that Khanthong is acting like a jealous lover – and to cover up everything, he replies that … well… yeah… he is jealous of….? Again, Khanthong and Aokya Wang’s scenes are lakorn gold!
Khanthong comes back, to once again see Mangmao. She dresses his wound and expresses her gratitude for what he had done. Of course, Khanthong had to broach the subject of him being a man, by saying it was improper for her to stay with him at such an hour, and while holding his hand to boot. Mangmao said, it’s no problem as he’s a eunuch – which prompts Khanthong to ask, what if I’m not?
Khanthong just suffered the worst blow when he lost his best friend, but Mangmao’s response could perhaps be interpreted as yet another blow. Don’t be a man, please, Mangmao says. She didn’t know how to react and how to be as close to him as a friend if he were a complete man.
He lost a best friend and gained a new one – but the sad part is that he didn’t want to be JUST her friend. What now?
Thankfully for all of us, Khanthong and Mangmao get closer in the succeeding episodes and we’ll see him slowly easing his way out of the friendzone.
So I just realized that this is the longest piece for P’Fia’s blog that I’ve written so far, and I do apologize for my fangirling. I tried! I really tried. But James Ji is really such an amazing actor and he really delivered in NDFD that I could not have discussed it any other way. What do you guys think? Did you like Episode 10 as much as I did? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments below. We’ll be looking forward to it. See you all next time on NDFD Ep 11. I won’t be spazzing as much, I promise. Thanks again for dropping by!