Double Espresso Coffee Talk: “Chai: The Blessed Eldest Child” by Greta
Posted on December 1, 2019
Hello folks! Today, I’m putting the Nueng Dao Fah Diew Coffee talk on hold in order to discuss Krong Karm (“Cage of Karma”) which is currently marketed through it’s international title “Repercussions”. Krong Karm is Thailand’s entry for the title of Best Drama Series of 2019 at the Asian Academy Creative Awards, which shall be held on December 6 at Singapore. As I’ve said before, Krong Karm isn’t your typical drama and it is indeed worth a watch. Hopefully with this review, I could help those who have watched it, and those who are yet to watch it, appreciate it and realize why it has been nominated for a prestigious award in the first place.
To get the ball rolling, I would like to introduce to you the story of Krong Karm, through the walls of Baan Bae (House of Bae) – that is, the 4 sons whose lives (and loves) form the central part of the story. To reiterate, Krong Karm tells the story of the Bae family, whose matriarch, Yoi, tests the limits of karma, in order to raise her four sons and to ensure that they all marry well and carry on the family’s dignity and goodwill.
The story begins with the eldest child, Patthom, otherwise known as Chai, meaning “Lucky”. His name is apt as will be revealed in the course of the lakorn. Being the eldest son of the Bae family, he carries a lot on his shoulders. Just the same, he likewise has a lot of advantages over his siblings, simply because he is the firstborn son. In that sense, he is indeed lucky. I remember my mom telling me once that it’s not true that mothers do not have favorites. She said that it is actually the eldest who is the favorite – simply because the mother loved him first. (Just in case you’re wondering, I’m an only child, which is why I think my mom was brave enough to say that. Lol!) To a certain extent, my mother’s opinion applies in this case, because you can see in the course of the drama just how much love and attention Yoi gives Achai. Although Asee, the youngest, is supposedly her favorite, it is Achai who she has high hopes for.
The lakorn opens with Achai, seeming like a knight in shining armor, as he sweeps Renu off her feet and carries her away from the dark and sleazy world of Takhli’s Lotus Bar.
He brings his new wife home to his house in the quiet little town of Chumsaeng, where his family is famous as traders and his mother is more infamous as the stingy and loud Taokaenia (Lady Boss) of the Bae enterprise. Yet when Renu asks him about his mother, he simply replies that “My mother is a kind lady.”
Achai refuses to tell Renu more about his mother, and instead tells her to wait and see for herself. Indeed, when the two ladies’ paths cross, they immediately exchange blows, as the mother-in-law-from-hell sees Renu as a gold-digger, while Renu is seemingly on last ditch effort to escape her previous life and hold on to this new one, come what may.
Before Achai entered the military, Yoi actually cautioned his son against prostitutes. Achai promised his mommy that he would stay away from them – only to fall in love and bring home one. After going against his mother’s words, he had the gall to demand the keys to the house that she had been preparing as his matrimonial home. The catch though is that You was preparing that house for him and Yoi’s chosen wife for Achai. Despite being the eldest, Achai, this early on, already appears to be a brat as he claims what he feels, and what his mother had previously instilled on him, as his. Succinctly, Achai is the eldest, and he acts the part, even though technically he hasn’t really earned it. His title as eldest was bestowed upon him as a birthright, and he claims this like a prince.
This is a common course of action for Achai in the lakorn. Of all the brothers, it is actually only Achai who stood up to their mother early on and demanded that she see things his way. Again, Asee, the youngest child often sucked up and begged (cutely) from their mother to get what he wanted, but Achai simply told Yoi about his decision without even consulting her, and expected her to understand and agree with him, even though it might take some time.
That had been Yoi’s main gripe – Achai, unthinkingly, brought Renu to Chumsaeng and was dead set on marrying her, without Achai even asking for his mother’s blessing. What made the whole Renu situation worse was that Yoi already arranged his engagement with the “perfect girl” – Philai.
Yoi had been firm in her belief that Philai is the perfect girl, and is the best match for no other child of hers, but her eldest child Achai. The contrast later on can be seen in Yoi’s marriage choice for Asa, who was forced into getting matched with Phiangphen only because it was convenient, but not because of Phiangphen being the “perfect girl”. We’ll discuss more of that later. But the point is, Yoi had sought the supposedly perfect woman to be the first Bae Daughter in Law – because Achai, to her mind, deserved nothing less. Philai was educated, smart, beautiful, and had a social status that was more or less similar to the Bae’s. Plus, she is half-Chinese, just like Achai. Truly, Achai is the lucky one for having his mother do him this favor of finding a “perfect” wife for him.
But later on, the audience would realize that perhaps Achai’s biggest luck was avoiding the marriage with Philai. As we learn later on, Philai is one crazy vengeful brat, no less bratty than Achai. Unlike Achai however, Philai is an only child born to a Thai mistress of a wealthy Chinese man (daughter from the “second” family). This situation proves to be a double whammy as Philai not only demands to have everything (a common stereotype for spoiled only children), but she is also bitter about being second to anyone.
Achai tries to break off things with Philai as civilly as possible, by sending her a letter breaking their engagement and explaining that he is in love with someone else. Not sure if it’s equivalent to a breakup through text message in the modern-day world, but the end result seems to be the same. This bitterness brought about by Achai’s abandonment gnaws at Philai and motivates her to wreak havoc in the course of the lakorn. Indeed, hell hath no fury than a woman scorned.
But what of Renu, Achai’s chosen wife? Again, we realize that Achai is one darn lucky guy. Renu, despite her superficial flaws, i.e., being a hooker, and deceiving him into marrying him, ends up being the diamond in the rough. She is virtuous, hard working and loyal. Most important of all, she genuinely loves him, and this love made her challenge the karmic laws just to make sure that he remains hers. While on one hand, Renu used Achai to escape her life as a prostitute, on the other hand, it is clear in the course of the lakorn that she wanted to fight for Achai and fight for their love – something which Achai had been too weak to do, despite showing bravado in front of his mother and giving all those promises to Renu.
It is this weakness in Achai that thus made him a secondary character in the story, as Renu and Yoi shined in their fight for Achai. Imagine if from episode 1, Achai already remained firm in his decision and stood up completely against his mother and started a new family with Renu, then the whole drama wouldn’t have happened. Conversely, if Achai remained obedient and ditched Renu in compliance with his mother’s wishes, then the main character would have been Philai!
The thing with Achai is that he knows what he doesn’t want – however, he is not clear on what he wants. His first dilemma was about not having an entrepreneurial spirit. He belongs to a family of traders, where he can someday take over as a big boss, but instead, he enjoys his stay in the military where he follows orders and becomes almost like a slave to his boss. How many times had it been that Achai could not be where he had to be or supposedly could not do what he wanted because he did not have any leaves left, or his boss did not allow him to go. Just the same, his stint in the military was a means to an end. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay in the ranks, or just use the military as a means to go to college. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to go to college. He wanted to, but he didn’t know if he can. In any event, the military was his excuse not to go back to Chumsaeng and to delay his take over of the family business. It was likewise his excuse to put things on hold with Renu as he had to sort everything out before they settled down. Ultimately, it was his luck that his stint in the military led him to Khun Noo Orn. But more of that later.
He likewise knows that he doesn’t want to be with Philai once he met Renu. Yet the dilemma that we see as the lakorn progresses is that, does Achai want Renu? Sure, he “wants” her to a certain extent but to spend his life with her and to actually choose her – it took him 19 episodes to decide, and in between we already see what a good catch Renu is, that we wonder, does Achai even deserve Renu or is he just really lucky?
To be fair to Achai, he sees beyond Renu’s past and does not let that define her or objectify her in his mind. This is his greatest contrast to Yoi’s character who is so hung up on the past (due to a personal tragedy) that it clouds her judgment. In that regard, we can say that Renu found a good match in Achai. But even when Achai doesn’t give much value on the wrongs that were committed by Renu in the past, still, it does not push him forward to live the present with her. There lies the problem.
Achai, when you think about it, is actually too stuck in the present, with no clear outlook towards the future. Of all the Bae siblings, it was Achai whose future was already set. He was going to finish military service, he was going to marry Philai and he was going to take over the family business. This future was set per tradition – as the eldest son of the family. Yet he did not want any of that. Even when Renu offered an alternative for him – that is, to have a family with her, he can do whatever the hell he wanted, but she will continue to make a decent living to keep money coming in, he was still hesitant. Achai is obsessing with a future he is yet to make, however, he does not have the gall to make things happen on his own. Instead, he lives day by day, on the schedule set by others.
- He pursues the engagement with Philai but puts it on hold due to his stint in the military.
- His romance with Renu is actually scheduled too, if you think about it – as she is a hostess in a bar and she gets rented out per hour on his free days in the military.
- He could not register his marriage with Renu because he still had to finish military service.
- He could not go back to the family business because he had to stay in the military/drive for his boss/Khun Noo Orn, etc.
Even after his stint in the military, his scheduled life did not end. As luck would have it – Achai seems to be the most appealing man in the whole lakorn, as he ends up being Khun Noo Orn’s object of affection.
Achai’s military boss, and eventually, his snooty daughter, promise greener pastures to Achai and it was as if he would be dumb if he let that opportunity pass him by. So from slave, he was eventually upgraded to doormat husband. Ostensibly, it was as if Achai, the eldest Bae son from Chumsaeng finally made it – He has a desk job in Bangkok and no longer trading rice and flour in their store. But really, Achai is just living off the whims of Khun Noo Orn. He is thus brought back to square one. He tried to escape the life his mother had planned for him – only for him to do what his mother had told him to do from the start: Ditch Renu, and marry a girl of a higher stature in life. In this situation, ironically, Yoi also does what Achai had wanted her to do all along – accept his new wife. Yoi quips that she no longer resisted and raised hell for Khun Noo Orn, as much as she did with Renu before as she didn’t want her actions to have repercussions on Achai’s second chance at romance. Yoi had tested the limits of karma for Achai with Renu; she was also willing to abide by the rules of Karma for Achai with Orn. That’s just how much Yoi loved her eldest son.
He also ditched the simple life that Renu had envisioned for their family. In the end, he realizes that he had the best scenario with Renu all along but traded that for that “bright future” with Khun Noo Orn.
In the end, we ask, which spell had damaged him more? Was it Renu’s love spell, or Khun Noo Orn’s promise of a high rolling life in Bangkok? Towards the end, the main conflict between Renu and Achai’s romance actually became almost like an afterthought. Initially, the quandary that is presented by the lakorn is whether Achai really loved Renu or if he was only carried away by the love spell. After seeing Renu’s character develop, and Achai’s character fall from grace, it becomes clear that it was Achai’s indecision all along that caused their relationship to fail. Renu had done everything to make Achai happy, and even ended up loving his family as her own – and eventually even joined the family business and made it grow. She even gave him freedom to do what he wanted and volunteered to take care of their livelihood and their children. Yet the allure of prestige and a life beyond Chumsaeng had charmed Achai more. In a sense, he and Renu are thus like kindered spirits who aspire to live a life that is beyond what was set for them. Renu wanted to step away from the darkness into the light, while the Achai wanted to achieve more than what was destined for an eldest child of a Thai-Chinese trader.
Ultimately, Achai’s luck had actually been his hindrance. Compare Achai’s character with say, Karn, for example. Karn is in the different end of the spectrum as Achai as he was born poor, had nothing, had no future. He struggled hard and sought an opportunity to get a better lot in life. Yet when an opportunity in Bangkok presented itself, he ditched that when he realized that what he wanted all along was to start a family with Phiangphen. What made Karn and Achai different was that Karn’s priorities were clear (of course there were zigzags too along the way, caused by a bar of soap no less… but that’s for another chapter.)
After falling into a love spell, and being robbed of his manhood by being a doormat husband to Khun Noo Orn, Achai suffers another big blow towards the end of the lakorn. Just when he finally gets an epiphany and realizes what he wants to do with his life, he gets into an accident and gets paralyzed. In perhaps the most dramatic twist of the lakorn, Yoi hears of news about his accident and actually suffers a heart attack and dies. Wow. Talk about luck running out. But see, the end of luck of this lucky child actually propels him into the future.
Some might say that Yoi’s death was finally her “karma” after what she did to the Bae matriarch, and the curse of those who she had crossed finally got realized and ended with her (and stopped getting passed on to her children.) But my take on it is that finally, Achai is free from the bonds his mother has set as she has freed him with her love. Life is short and the security blanket he’s had all along is now gone. It was now time for him to live his life and follow his heart. An eldest child is no longer a child without a mother. With Yoi’s death, he is now just Chai. Plain and simple.
Achai, as I mentioned earlier had been a secondary character for the most part of the lakorn, meant as a foil (and punching bag, if you will) for both Renu and Yoi. Also, though he wasn’t present for the most part of the lakorn, he also serves as the point of comparison to Yoi’s relationship with all her other children.
But when the story comes into a full circle in the end, Phet Thakrit once again delivers a solid performance. He plays a secondary character so well – and I remember P’Fia mentioning in her initial thoughts on Krong Karm that Phet doesn’t have that “main character” light at all – and justifiably so – as that is how Chai’s character was written. He only shines at the very end, and actually has a sequence meant for his own character when he finally can stand up and say, yes. I can do it now, Ma! Yoi can finally rest in peace as she sees that her eldest child has finally found his proper place in the world.
So there you have it folks. That’s Achai’s story arc. Next, we’ll have the Second Child, Atong’s story arc and we’ll see just how much it relates to Achai’s. See you next time! ~Greta
Read previous Krong Karma summary here.