“A Tale of Thousand Stars” First Impressions (Ep.1 to 4)

The most anticipated Thai BL, “A Tale of Thousand Stars” has finally premiered, and fans of GMMTV as well as BL dramas across the globe are over the moon about it. It’s hard to step onto social media without seeing #EarthMix within seconds. The two actors are stunning archetypes of modern conventions of what we expect from BL dramas, the main couple.

I sometimes wonder if it’s a good thing to get exactly what you expect from a show’s couple. Earth, tall, broad, and muscular with a roughness to his appearance versus Mixx’s beauty and almost grace, both’s impressions mirror the Yaoi manga portrayals of characters familiar to fans.

Interestingly, very few people pay attention to the implications these archetypes play into, on how we perceive the characters we love. The taller broader man is almost always the dominant in the relationship, in our minds even before they show any sign of it, while the frequently shorter, leaner, more beautiful character is submissive in most instances. Examples: Fighter/Tutor “Why R U The Series” Toya/Yukito “Carcaptors” Pete/Kao “Kiss Me Again.” Most politically correct people feel this is an outdated approach to creating a couple used in a Boy’s Love series. But to many, it’s just a sense of familiarity and something to be expected. Mainly because these series are primarily based on novels written by women who fantasize that culture. While in anime, the hair color is the defining feature, in shows like these, it really is the body types that define what to expect.

The reason why I pointed this out was because a large portion of “1000 Stars” seems to have similar concerns. It all comes together into a lovely story that builds around the death of a woman who was on the cusp of starting a new life. Now that torch is passed to a spoiled rich young man who lived a very nihilistic life before his circumstances changed. Traveling to the impoverished village where that woman taught and enriched lives, he tries to step into her role as a teacher. But soon discovers there is much more to being a teacher than calling yourself one. That story follows the different events that we have come to expect from this redemption storyline(arriving to become a fish out of water – setting the bar of success too high – failing at that and endangering someone – getting harsh treatment – trying again – getting help from everyone the character could have just asked from the start – gaining an understanding of their situation – applying that knowledge to their own lives – choosing to stay in the new place). What sets it apart is that Tian (Mix Sahaphap) has no one to accomplish this for but himself.

Usually, there is some reason based on which the said character undergoes a massive change and learns to love their new self. Whether it’s a breakup, losing a friend, or a job, life-altering events change their perception of themselves, and they have to rise to meet their newly grown expectations for life. Tian gets his second chance at life, and literally, everyone wants him to be exactly how he was before, albeit a little more respectful, but mostly no one expects anything from him. Usually, in stories where the wild child has to mature and be a better man, there is an actual reason for it “Cause You’re My Boy” ’s Mork realizing he has to handle his reactions better to be worthy of Tee’s love and handle his homophobic mother’s machinations for example. But Tian abandons his old life for this new one where for six months he will be a teacher in a village on the borders of the region.

I choose to believe that the reason for this redemption is that, he wants to feel worthy of the heart that beats in his chest. The heart that he surreptitiously received on Torfun’s (Aye Sarunchana) sudden accidental death! Tian had been diagnosed with an incurable heart disease, that was killing him slowly. With a “Devil May Care Attitude”, he lived every day like it was his last. Drinking, smoking, and racing in his high-priced car were some of the insane things he enjoyed. A lot of concepts in ATOTS is open to interpretation which can be a good thing or a bad thing based on what your perceptions. In the first episode, we have unexpected meeting between our main leads where both are in posh hotel setting and walk past each other without recognizing the other. They are mere strangers at this point and yet Tian experiences a strange resonance. This scene was pretty confusing. Why is Phupha there? How does a Forest Ranger have clothes like that, and how does this scene help in the overall narrative? The answer doesn’t present itself right there but is left for you to decide.

The show does a fantastic job of creating moods through music and the Director’s keen eye for detail. We as viewers experience the different lifestyles of the characters as smooth transitions move between the three main characters. Whether in the polished splendor of Tian’s upscale life or the brightly lush forests that surround the village Torfun and Phupua spend their time in, I never felt numb to any scene. Unlike many shows that GMMTV offer, this one focuses more heavily on portrayal as compared to visual diagnostics. Sometimes we get it wrong, but that is, I assume, the Director’s intention. From the earliest scenes, it’s implied that Phupha and Torfun were a couple, but in the latest episodes, Phupua calls her his beloved sister. Things like these keep me hooked as I’m waiting to understand more about these characters as well as their underlying connection to each other.

This drama’s characters are what allows it to be set apart from the other currently on-air BL dramas. Tian as a spoiled young man with no sense of self-worth seems to be the cornerstone of the series. Whether it’s tossing expensive gifts from his parents into the pot of a high stakes game of gambling. Or choosing when to care about others’ feelings and opinions, he is truly a unique character. Out of the three person narrative, Tian is by far the most consistent in terms of character development. He gets an idea in his head, and there is nothing that can change his mind. I personally love his “Fish-Out-Of-Water” aspect, since he is not good at anything but tries. He is the epitome of half-baked plans, rushing into situations without thinking of the resulting consequences. It makes me curious and I want to watch him grow into a more well-adjusted and mature individual.

Phupha, the Chief of the Forest Rangers, at first glance looks like a shollow character without much depth. It’s hard to care about him, as this character is introduced in a forest setting hunting down fugitives. His sombre attitude gets on your nerves and you fail to see beyond his disciplined lifestyle. His silent demeanor and no-nonsense attitude failed to capture my attention. Unexpectedly, it was the shy smiles or his cheeky way of treating Tian from the first episode that finally got me hooked. Even though Phupha is characterized to appear as strict or cold-hearted, he loves to flirt and does things to draw Tian’s attention to him. He majorly comes across as a lonely man who has finally found someone intriguing. By the third episode, Phupha is already smitten with Tian and we are left wondering about this sudden change of heart. Although at times Phupha might sound condescending, he isn’t downright hostile. I truly wonder if that was intentional, since Earth played a similar character in “Waterboyy” where he acted truly detestable while trying to avoid his love interest.

Torfun’s character depiction is exactly the opposite of Phupha. Female Characters are generally the most underdeveloped roles in a BL series. But her character is painted as eternal optimistic, from the start of the first episode on. You witness her strained relationship with her debt ridden Aunt who is addicted to gambling and yet she ostensibly sents back her earnings because she feels indebted. Torfun’s kindness shines through the corners, when she decides to forsake a comfortable life to teach in an underdeveloped village. She carries out her daily tasks with a smile on her face, keeping any negative thoughts or longings confined to the pages of her diary, so that the people who are dependent on her never realise the wounds she carries deep in her heart. Her feelings for Phupha are so obvious, that you can’t help but feel a deep sadness on her sudden death. Torfun is a character whose base desires and dreams were never realized.

It’s interesting why the writers and director chose to showcase the three main characters in such a way that gives us their lopsided view. Tian and Torfun’s characterization is clear but Phupha seems a bit hazy. The episodes themselves are written like chapters of a book which makes sense as it comes from a novel of the same name. Each episode has a beginning, a middle, and an end even if the pacing and time given to each section isn’t equal. This is the only negative trait for me because at times the sudden section breaks are jarring. It could be really frustrating, because it is like a neon sign blinking on my head highlighting the phrase “Pause and take this in”, while I only want to be left undisturbed with my musings.

The cinematography is wonderful and refreshing as compared to the other Thai shows, where you can instantly point out which scenes have been recycled or where the cameras shift from better to worse depending on the importance of the said scene. This show is shot in amazing clarity and the picture quality stays consistent thoughout. The beauty of each scene is that the characters involved are always at the center, the focal point remains on the current situation and that’s keeps me marginally entertained. Each set is resplendent to the novel settings and make it a worthwhile experience. I loved how the Director has paid attention to the minuscule details in the classic flashback scenes. The merger of the past and present is surreal because we get to watch Tian’s state of mind as he tries to reconcile whenever he comes across things or people related to Torfun. The reverence shines through his eyes and it is a truly encompassing moment for the ardent fans of this show.

Overall, “A Tale of Thousand Stars” is a beautiful series that is totally worth the year-long wait. The script is top-notch while not extending itself with rehashing details. Every actor has been cast in roles that were tailored perfectly and bought to life. If you came for the romance, you won’t feel bored as it follows in “Manner of Deaths” footsteps by focusing on the romance over the actual character development. Granted it’s only four episodes in and is still establishing plot! So maybe it will go beyond the expected and choose to tell a story about a man who uses his second chance at life not to just love, but to live!

Rating- 4.5 out of 5

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