Too dark for broadcast TV, Daughters is seeing the light of day courtesy of a streaming environment and a platform determined to tell a different type of story. Five years after delivering her show, director Mangmoom Rattakul talks about the resurrection of a series that not only consumed her for years, but that she had given up on seeing aired.
When iQiyi’s Thai drama acquisition, Mangmoom Rattakul’s Daughters, premieres on 4 Dec with six language options, the Chinese streamer escalates the fight for content that distinguishes streaming from broadcast, and celebrates the triumph of deep connection with a domestic creative industry that might, otherwise, have continued to bury this story.
iQiyi’s pick up also creates a happy ending for a production team whose members poured everything they had into the 24-episode TV series and were eventually forced to accept that it might languish unseen forever as a programme too raw for broadcast TV.
The series was originally commissioned by digital terrestrial broadcast station PPTV, and acquired for iQiyi by former PPTV staffer and now iQiyi International’s acquisition director for Thailand, Parnsuk “Poppy” Tongrob.
Daughters is an intense female-centric story about four girls mired in family problems and relying on each other to help deal with their trauma. To escape, they create a drug-fuelled existence and embark on a path from which there may be no turning back. The TV series is based on the 1994 film, Daughter, by Chatrichalerm Yukol, who is Mangmoom Rattakul’s father.
The four girls are played by Chicha “Kitty” Amatayakul (Girl from Nowhere), Sornnarin “Ploy” Bunphong (The Maid), Chayanit “Pat| Chansangawej (The Stranded) and Praewpannarai “Praew” Sansanapitayakorn. Over the past five years, Amatayakul and Bunphong have built up significant social media fan bases. This means the series debuts with a more engaged audience than it might have had five years ago.
iQiyi’s Tongrob says the series “left a very deep impression on me with its still-relevant themes and a heart-wrenching plot”. He talks of Daughters as more than a story of drugs and vice, and describes the series as exploring “the delicate relationships we all have as human beings”.
Five years ago, he adds, “there weren’t streaming platforms that would take local shows to the international stage... So once I was at iQiyi, I didn’t hesitate to get the conversation started”.
Rattakul says she was shocked at the news that iQiyi had picked up rights for the series. “I didn’t think it would be aired at all. We gave up on it. We were obsessing about it for two years, and then we decided to let it go,” she says.
Daughters will premiere on iQiyi as she delivered it five years ago, with the addition of language customisation in English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Spanish.
At the time, Rattakul was not unaware that the story could delve into dark and uncomfortable places, and initially explored the option of “something more easy to watch” with the station. “But they wanted it to be real,” she says. “So that’s what I did”. She acknowledges the difficult line the series walks. “If it had been shown in Thailand then, every scene would have had to be censored,” she says.
Rattakul, who studied television and film at Bond University in Australia, had never made anything like it before. “Of all my dad’s films, this is the one I like the most. When he was making it, I was old enough to understand that people’s lives are different... It’s not just all ponies and rainbows, like I thought before. It helped me to grow and understand,” she says.
“The problems in the 1990s is still here. Nothing has changed. We still have family problems, we still have drug problems, girls still get raped. The problems are exactly the same. Nothing has been fixed. The issues are as relevant today as when my father made his film,” she adds.
Adapting the film into a TV series two decades later was her idea, and returning to the film’s familiar story and themes she had known for more than two decades gave her insights she wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Perhaps because of this, she insisted on in-depth research, extensive workshops to immerse her young cast in an unfamiliar world, a pre-production process sometimes missing in Thai/Southeast Asian drama, and authentic realistic backdrops no matter how uncomfortable they may have been.
The most difficult angle of the series is that it had to be a real story. “I couldn’t change or make something that’s out of character,” she says.
All through the challenges of Daughters, she’s never been tempted by lighter fare – for example, the romcoms or fantasy that are so popular in Thailand – that might speak to her family background as part of Thailand’s extended Royal family. “That’s not my style,” she says.
Rattakul says her series cannot be compared to her father’s film. “I have my own point of view. He has his own point of view, so you can’t compare the two.”
Her father, who she said she did not approach for advice on the TV series, was less concerned about her choice of projects than about her choice of career, she says. “He said nothing about the series, but he always asked if I was sure I wanted to make films. He says it’s real labour and consumes you 24 hours, but I had my mind set”.
He may have been right. After months of little rest and no sleep during Daughters production – “I would go to the emergency room, get an injection, go back onto set” – she fell ill. On weekends, when there was no filming, she was in the edit suite. “My body couldn’t take it anymore,” she says. “I hope it won’t be forever, but I’ve been advised to recover my health before I make anything else”.
Published in ContentAsia's December 2020 magazine