by Cho Na, July 8, 2021
79

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS on the characters.
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A homecoming wild ride!

He still managed to save his underwear, though.

INTRODUCTION

I'm quite sure many of you clicked on this article just out of curiosity about the word 'Isan' in the title. I will tell you a little bit about Isan for the purpose of recapping this drama. Isan is Thailand's largest region located in the northeastern part of the country and consists of 20 provinces. The majority of the population of the Isan region is ethnically Lao, but distinguish themselves not only from the Lao of Laos but also from the central Thai by calling themselves khon Isan or Thai Isan in general. The main language is Isan, the name by which the Lao language is referred to in Thailand. Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy. Many Isan people seek higher-paying work outside the region, particularly in Bangkok.

To read more about Isan and its people, check out source 1 and source 2.

Disclaimer: My knowledge of the Isan people and their culture is limited to what I gathered by watching this drama, as well as mini-research, conducted pertinent to writing this article.


DRAMA INFO

Title: To Me, It's Simply you (มนต์รักหนองผักกะแยงor Mon Ruk Nong Pak Ka Yan
Country: Thailand
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Drama, Family
Aired: May 14, 2021 - Jun 11, 2021
Episode: 13
Duration: 1 hr. 30 min.
Official trailer (not subbed): Channel3 
Where to watch (Eng. sub): WeTV 

To Me, It's Simply You is a 2021 Thai rom-com based on the lifestyle of the Isan people. The story follows Kiew, an Isan young man who has lived in Bangkok for some time. After a breakup that shattered his long-time dream and left him broke, he came back to his home village. Kiew wants to sell his grandma's farmland to start over again in Bangkok. His plan doesn't go well, and he faces opposition, not only from his family but also from Chompoo, who manages the land. (rewritten from MDL synopsis)


MAIN CHARACTERS

Kiew aka Tharakorn aka Luzai aka Tom 

(Nadech Kugimiya)

Find out in the drama why he has so many names!
From an aspiring drama director to a broken prodigal son
to a green farmer, Kiew has an interesting story to tell.
You are bound to hate Kiew in the beginning. He thinks he has it all in Bangkok. He hates Isan and looks down on the people. He thinks of them as poor, ignorant, and old-fashioned. Only just because he's broke and has nowhere to go that he is back to his home village. Now he is even poorer than them. He whines and cries so much that someone on MDL created a special 'Crybaby Male Lead' tag for the Kiew character!

Chompoo 

(Bow Maylada Susri)

Chompoo is like the heroine of the village, even more than the village head, Uncle Pila, himself. If anyone has a problem, she will be called for help. Cherished by the elders, feared by the kids. Chompoo manages Grandma Pian's farmland with volunteers, and in turn, she pays with products of the land as rent payment. Kiew suspects that Chompoo takes advantage of his grandma's generosity. Chompoo suspects Kiew has an ulterior motive with his grandma's land.

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

THE YOUNGSTERS

Richie is an American who came to Isan to teach English to the school children, and in turn, learns about Isan culture.

Namfon is Kiew's childhood friend. After getting her teaching credential, she came back to teach Isan children.
Yod is also Kiew's childhood friend. He is married with two children, and his wife really wants to move to Bangkok.
Sompaen is another of Kiew's childhood friend. She is also married with twin daughters. Her husband is a drunkard and a gambler.


THE ELDERS

From left to right: Kiew's father Manit (Yeong Lookyee) and mother Pilai (Namfon Sruangsuda Lawanprasert); Kiew's grandmother Grandma Pian (Noi Phongam); Chompoo's mother Phikun (Chamaiporn Sitthiworanang) and father Somsak (Somjit Jongjohor). Grandma Pian's 2 hectares of land becomes a dispute between Kiew and Chompoo since it's worth 30M bahts (≈ USD 964K).

WHY I RECOMMEND THIS DRAMA

#1. ANTI-HERO MALE LEAD

In a typical romantic drama, the male lead is usually portrayed as someone with a combination of minimum two dramaland positive characters: smart, handsome, rich, powerful, with nice personality, patient with the female lead, he most of the time either holds unrequited love towards or falls for her first. Or the male lead is more 'human' but still heroic, such as poor but hard-working. Whoever the male lead is, he is portrayed as charming since the beginning, so that the audiences fall for him before the female lead does. 

Not Kiew. He is an anti-hero, and nothing is charming about him in the beginning but his looks. Even with his looks, he still pouts and makes ugly faces. Kiew doesn't end up saving the whole country from doom or anything heroic like that. His character simply grows and matures. This is what makes this drama different from the usual romantic dramas. 

The actor brought the role of Kiew to life wonderfully. Nadech, with his good looks and acting experience, can easily stay 'safe' in his acting career by choosing only heroic roles as a charming prince, fearless cop, or heavenly deity. Instead, he picked the role of Kiew, a city snob who turns into a goofy loser. For this role, Nadech was not afraid to get down and dirty, covered with mud and sand, and experienced dehydration and the sun's heat.


#2. KIEW AND CHOMPOO'S CHEMISTRY

Once they are on good terms, Kiew and Chompoo are as sweet as they can be. Like their surrounding green environment, their chemistry is natural and refreshing. Nadech and Bow were comfortable working with each other, either in bickering or romancing. Their teamwork is remarkable, considering this is the first time they collaborated and they have their own romantic partners in real life.

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#3. ISAN CULTURE

The Isan people are the heart of the story. In this drama, we get to learn about their culture and beliefs. Most Isan people are Theravada Buddhists, although this is combined with elements of animism (source). We watch their holidays and festival celebrations. The Rocket Festival is depicted above, for example. The festival is a merit-making ceremony, a concept considered fundamental to Buddhist ethics—one of the typical celebration practice including competitive firings of homemade rockets  (source).

As you may have noticed, the Isan culture is colorful. In the picture below, the hanging ornaments behind the group photo are called Tung Flags. Tung is an Isan word meaning 'flag'.  During the flag ceremony, besides making merit, the Isan people also believe that the ceremony will result in a substantial rainfall for farmers (source).


#4. HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

Since Chompoo rents the land from Grandma Pian to build an organic farm, we also learn about how to grow vegetables naturally. From planting seeds, raising earthworms to make compost, creating biopesticide, irrigation, raising chickens, and later collecting the products, all are done naturally. It's like watching a how-to video on organic farming/gardening in the form of a drama!

With the payment of renting the land being in the form of fresh produce, of course, the story will not be complete with the farm-to-table process. We watch what the local Isan foods are, how to make them, and some even on how to eat them. 


#5. TOGETHERNESS

The Isan in this drama is a tight-knit community. They do things together and take an interest in each other's business. Therefore, there is almost no privacy or secrets as they are curious to know each other's whereabouts and well-being.

Young and old, they are always together in thick and thin. Trying to help solve other people's problem. They are genuine friends in need, loyal and won't leave you behind in danger.

Of course,  it's not a Thai drama without guns and gangsters!


#6 SINGING AND DANCING

As the drama depicts the life of Isan people in general, it's a given that the audiences are entertained with lots of Isan singing and dancing. Mor lam is a traditional Lao form of song in Isan (and Laos). The characteristic feature of Mor lam is the use of a flexible melody tailored to the tones of the words in the text. In Isan, performances are an essential part of festivals and ceremonies. Mor lam often reflects the difficulties of life in rural Isan, leavened with wry humor (source).

The audiences also watch the dancing and singing of Luk thung, often known as Thai country music. Luk thung is an acculturated song genre that emerged after World War II in the central region of Thailand. The genre has been prominently popularized in northeastern Thailand, having from its beginnings drawn upon northeastern mor lam musical traditions and the Isan language (source).

Although I am not particularly keen on the traditional singing and music, I am quite entertained by their dancing. On some occasions during the drama, a situation may burst into a dancing and singing scene. I also love the modern OST songs sung by Nadech and/or Bow.  

My favorite OST in this drama is "Please Use the Word 'Girlfriend'" (ขอใช้คำว่าแฟน), a duet by Nadech and Bow. The official music video is cute and well-produced. It's shown in split-window as if the singers are sitting in their own rooms singing while recalling their sweet moments together.
Official MV playlist: Channel3Thailand Music

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, To Me, It's Simply You is a unique Thai drama that you want to watch, especially if you are bored with the typical romantic dramas nowadays and would like to try something different. The unique feature of this drama is not in the couple's romance (though it's lovely) but in the depiction of the Isan people's life's simplicity. This drama teaches a valuable message on what matters the most in life: living healthy (physical), simply (mental), and peacefully (spiritual), surrounded by people you love (social).

THANK YOU FOR READING!


Acknowledgements and credits: Thank you to the editors who edited this articleI do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. Self-made GIFs and pictures are taken from official posters/stills, OST, and drama scenes. Other image sources: getstorypoint, Twitter, and headtopics.


Edited by: YW (1st editor), devitto (2nd editor)

nadech kugimiya to me, it's simply isan bow maylada susri

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