Here is a translation of the second of a series of a Japanese articles on Thai BL written by journalist Mayumi Mori of the Asahi Shimbun. I collaborated with Mayumi along with other researchers on this series of articles and I am sharing loose English translations here. Here is article number 1!
I haven’t got permission to share the images in the original article and this translation is produced for the purposes of teaching and research under the relevant fair-use laws under which I operate in Australia.
What kinds of series can be found among Thai BL dramas? We asked Macquarie University’s Dr Thomas Baudinette (Gender Studies) – who first discovered yaoi manga in an Australian public library and realised he was gay – to recommend 10 BL dramas.
1. Love of Siam (2007)
When thinking about the beginning of Thai BL, this movie is indispensable. In Japan, it was released under the title Siam Square and was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. One could even say that this hit movie created the foundations for Thai BL.
Love of Siam is a teen film that tells the story of Mew, a young school boy living in Bangkok who experiences his first love for his childhood friend Tong. Their kiss scene became a big controversy in Thailand and there were even voices from among viewers claiming that they were “tricked into seeing a gay film.” However, the film also became an unprecedented and unexpected hit among young female viewers. This created a space where investment into BL dramas became possible.
2. Lovesick, The Series (2014)
This is the first television drama that was produced for an audience of female fans of BL in Thailand.
The story begins when the protagonist Phun is being pushed into a relationship with the daughter of one of his father’s friends. In order to escape from being forced to date a woman that he doesn’t know, Phun enters into a fake relationship with Noh, a young boy who attends the same high school. While pretending to date, the two eventually fall in love… a classic love story. The character who plays the role of cupid for the two boys is Phun’s sister Pang, who is a fujoshi who loves BL. Pang also acts as a guide to the viewer, with her “fujoshi gaze” showing the charm points of Phun and Noh as they come close together.
3. SOTUS (2016)
A work that follows the classic BL formula, where an extremely tsundere senior falls in love with the new student who is he is brutally hazing. SOTUS was such a popular series that wealthy Chinese fans hired a billboard in New York City’s Times Square to celebrate one of the star’s birthdays. SOTUS was even broadcast in Japan on a streaming service.
Produced by the large Thai TV Station [and talent agency] GMM Grammy, SOTUS was the first BL drama to be a massive financial hit. It was based on a BL novel of the same name. The stars were selected through a large-scale audition. GMM is increasingly including talent from their extensive network in their BL stories.
4. 2Moons (2017)
Although this series was a massive hit, there were also severe arguments between its various fans. Some fans criticised one of the actors for not attending fan events, claiming that he simply “used BL series as a stepping stone for his own success.” Other fans, of course, defended him and blamed the management. As a result of this fan debate, a remake of the series entitled 2Moons2 was released this year rather than a promised sequel. As an example of the passion of BL fans, this is a particularly noteworthy series.
5. Together With Me (2017)
Until the release of this drama, most BL were presented like shojo manga (Japanese girls comics), sometimes with kissing and sometimes without. Together With Me was, however, the first Thai BL series that became “sexy.” The story begins when two childhood friends have drunken sex after reconnecting after a long time. As a series where the actors aren’t shy about speaking favourably about the rights of sexual minorities at fan events, Together With Me is popular among gay men for the reality of its story.
6. Love By Chance (2018)
Centring on the relationship between the wealthy yet shy Pete and the determined hero Ae, Love By Chance tells the stories of 4 couples and was the first Thai BL series that authentically and strategically globalised. At the same time that episodes were uploaded online, English subtitles were provided. Throughout China and the rest of Asia where TV series depicting homosexual acts are banned, many people watched such shows online via pirate websites. Yet companies still receive profits from such fans through fan meetings and the sale of goods. It was around the release of Love By Chance that Thai TV stations began to understand the benefits of this new potential market.
7. Dark Blue Kiss (2019)
2019 has been a bountiful year for Thai BL series. Dark Blue Kiss is the third continuation of the Kiss series, including 2016’s Kiss The Series and 2018’s Kiss Me Again. Kiss The Series has a heterosexual couple as the main focus, whilst the male couple of Dark Blue Kiss were relatively minor supporting characters. Now, the male couple have become the protagonists, showing how BL has become mainstream.
8. Theory of Love (2019)
Theory of Love tells the story of how the unapologetic womanizer Khai falls in love with his gay friend Third, who had loved him secretly from afar. The final episode showed this couple’s future working together as adults, strongly conveying the message that gay couples can live happily ever after.
One of the supporting cast members of Theory of Love was the former protagonist of Lovesick. Whilst in the past an actor who became popular by appearing in a BL drama would then move onto “normal” series, in this case an actor returned to BL. This is more evidence that BL has become mainstream.
9. TharnType The Series (2019)
This is a work that has become especially noticed by foreign fans who desire more explicit sex scenes. From the very beginning of the show there is a kiss scene, followed by increasingly intense sex scenes. Focusing on the serious issues of discrimination against sexual minorities and the trauma of rape, TharnType The Series has a particularly sophisticated plot. That being said, the tendency for sexual violence to be aestheticized as a fantasy is still evident in this series.
10. The Effect (2019)
This drama tells the story of Keng, who is respected by everyone at his university and who falls in love with the shy freshman Shin. The first episode of the show is a classic BL narrative that tells the story of how these two become closer. In the second episode, however, when Keng confesses his love to Shin, Shin replies that he “cannot love a man” and then Keng rapes Shin in anger. Shin suffers so much that he even attempts to take his own life. Unable to stand by doing nothing, Shin’s friend yells at Keng that “the things you imagine in your fantasy and see on TV won’t happen in real life!”
Until now, BL has tended to aestheticize rape and has presented the love between two men relatively simplistically and shallowly. In the face of this tendency, The Effect is a work that problematises BL itself. Whilst the three episode format is relatively short and the series wasn’t especially popular, The Effect shows the potential new directions in which Thai BL may go.
In Japan, BL is predominantly created and enjoyed by women. In the 1990s, a fierce debate emerged when gay men raised their voices to criticise how “the genre of yaoi appropriates representations of gay men in order to fulfil women’s fantasies however they like.”
Over the past 5 years during which BL dramas have been produced, similar criticisms have also emerged in Thailand. They have not, however, become especially dominant. This may be because in Thailand BL represents a live-action genre starring famous stars. For the gay community in Thailand, being able to see male couples kissing on television has given them a sense of courage.
If Thai series were to be imported back into Japan, perhaps the world of Japanese BL will undergo a big change [in its representational politics]. It is my sincere wish that these dramas will one day reach Japanese fans.