Thai director, Chudapha Chantakett, dialed down the comedy and upped the conflict in her latest prime time series, My Forever Sunshine, where the leads are as pretty as ever but character development pushes the boundaries and heroes may not be very heroic. “This makes the show different and challenging for us,” she told ContentAsia.
New Thai prime-time drama, My Forever Sunshine, flies the flag for the high “cute” quotient that Thai content is known and loved for, at the same time as pushing the boundaries of character development and behaviour that domestic audiences usually expect from their heroes and heroines.
The 19x85-mins series premiered on 19 November 2020 on BEC World’s free-TV service Channel 3 and on streaming platform Ch3+, with a simultaneous release on Tencent-owned WeTV in Thailand and a release the following day on regional streaming platform Viu in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and on WeTV outside Thailand. The show, produced by Sonix Boom 2013 (Thong Ek: The Herbal Master) and Screen Shot, runs to 15 December.
My Forever Sunshine stars Mark Prin (My Husband in Law), winner of the Best Male Lead in this year’s ContentAsia Awards, as Arthit, the son of a modest farming family rescued from debt by a wealthy friend. In return, Arthit’s father agrees (against the wishes of his wife) to an engagement with the friend’s bratty daughter, Paeng, played by Supassara “Kao” Thanachat. Arthit has zero romantic interest in the girl, whom he has known since childhood, and when she causes a serious accident, he ends up despising her. The romance is based on Thai novel Trab Fah Mee Tawan (ตราบฟ้ามีตะวัน) by Aunhaphumpokkati (อุณหภูมิปกติ).
Typical audiences for Thai dramas expect the female lead to be elegant and the male lead to be heroic, says actress-turned-producer/director, Chudapha Chantakett, who also directed Thai hit, Thong Ek: The Herbal Master – one of the country’s top IP exports so far.
“My Forever Sunshine may subvert audience expectations. I wanted to create something different,” she adds, hoping at the same time that local “audiences will be open-minded”.
The series comes at a turning point for domestic drama in Thailand, where streaming platforms are changing the fabric of storytelling, and abroad, where Thai drama is enjoying unprecedented exposure.
My Forever Sunshine is part of a Q3 prime-time slate that also includes Deceitful Love, a romantic drama that reunites Love Destiny stars Pope Thanavat and Bella Ranee in a romantic tale of a woman, Pitcha, who falls in love with her divorce lawyer Ramin. Deceitful Love premiered on 5 October on Channel 3 in Thailand, simulcast across five platforms (including Tencent Video, iQiyi and Youku) in eight countries.
Chantakett says international audiences were a consideration in crafting My Forever Sunshine, where the lead characters are not “100% perfect... and “may not be very heroic”. This, she adds, “makes this show different and challenging for us”.
She expects audiences to polarise around the two leads’ early character traits and conflict, before transitioning to their older, more mature, selves. “I want the transition to feel natural enough for the audience to believe that they both truly grew,” she says.
“There are a lot of things audiences can relate to,” she adds, describing the two lead characters as “just ordinary teenagers with emotions such as love, greed, anger and desire like everyone else. They can make a mistake and be judged by society,” she adds.
Along the way, a universal truth is revealed: “Every human makes mistakes throughout their lives, and the characters in this story are no different. The message I want to show is that every mistake, large or small, can be taken as a lesson as to not repeat past mistakes,” Chantakett says.
In Paeng, the trait she focused on surfacing initially was her selfishness. “I think this trait may polarise the audience; younger generations may take her side while older generations may disagree with her actions,” she says. In Arthit, “I wanted to show his caring side and wanted him to feel more natural than his counterpart in the novel”.
The challenge, says co-producer Piya Sawetpikul, was to make viewers care about a not-very-likeable Paeng. “The relationship between Arthit and Paeng is not good from the start,” he says. “They don’t like each other. Paeng is not a nice lady... It’s our challenge to capture the viewers’ attention and make them fall in love with the characters,” he says.
My Forever Sunshine retains a strong Thai character. “Thai people are kind, understanding and forgiving. This story incorporates this Thai attitude through the farm community, which is merry and easy-going. Also, the Thai culture of respecting your elders no matter if they are right or wrong is present in this story. This concept polarises the younger and older generation. Because of this, some characters do not like it when others are rude, straightforward, or harsh towards them, which may result in quarrels”.
The conflict between the two lead characters is Chantakett’s favourite element. “One loves the wrong way and the other despises them in turn,” she says.
A romance veteran, Chantakett’s past shows include Hidden Love, starring Nadech and Taew Natapohn; Game of Affection (2018), with James Jirayu and Taew Natapohn; and Two Spirits’ Love, starring Mario Maurer and Mint Chalida; as well as Thong Ek. She says the biggest difference between her past works and My Forever Sunshine is the scale of the conflict.
“This show is also a romance, but I am someone who likes variety in my work. I get easily bored... so I like to innovate to keep myself refreshed. The conflict between the hero and heroine in my old shows may not go beyond small misunderstandings or little conflicts.
“My Forever Sunshine is different in that initially the relationship between the hero and heroine is closer to family, but the hero becomes resentful towards the heroine after she takes advantage of him in a twisted display of her love. Over time, the heroine develops feelings for the hero but expresses it in a twisted way, taking advantage of him and causing our hero to resent her. The conflict in this story is so strong that some may wonder if the two can truly love each other again,” she says.
My Forever Sunshine is about 25% comedy, but the comic elements are not the focus of the story.
“The comedy is used to prevent the mood from becoming too heavy or dramatic. I would say this series is 20% to 30% comedy. That’s less than my old titles, such as Thong Ek,” she says.
Most of the series was shot before or in the very early days of Covid-19 restrictions. Chantakett says she sped up production as news of the virus started spreading, and some of the last scenes and locations were adjusted to accommodate lock-downs and curfews in Thailand. The impact on the outcome, she says, was insignificant.
Published in ContentAsia's December 2020 magazine