“The unicorn is not known for its horn, beauty, or purity; but for its strength and courage as one.”– Nicole Beckwith
While the world celebrated the “New Year” with evident enthusiasm, the top brass at tech giant GMMTV decided to put a downer on the festive mood. Since none of their popular weekend dramas streamed new episodes, I was stuck with the urge to find some old classics. That’s the reason we are here. Some of my mutual friends on Twitter had raved to me about this show; when it had premiered on the Line TV platform. Unfortunately, the show wasn’t subbed and relying on fan-subbed videos didn’t seem like a viable option (or more so, because I was being lazy). To everyone’s joy and relief, Great Men Academy is now globally available on Netflix. If you are looking for a drama to binge watch, this show should be high on your watch list!
Great Men Academy is a magical realism romance based on the tropes of Gender Swap and Unrequited Love. I wasn’t expecting much when I heard Gender Swap, Unicorns and Body Transformation. The first episode wasn’t promising either, as the camera pans through the forest where two students are struggling to covet the “Greatest Man” title. Set in a parallel universe with some incoherent fantasy elements, Great Men Academy is a prestigious boy’s school which hosts an annual competition to judge the winner. The winner later gets a wish from the resident “Unicorn” which conveniently prances around the forest terrain and makes appearances as per its own convenience. It’s a mythical creature, so the boundaries of its magic are questionable. The journey begins with the introduction of our lovestruck protagonist, Love (New Chanyapuk). She positively obsessed with the current title holder Vier (Ice Paris). On chance meeting with the Unicorn, she earns a wish and requests to fulfill her love. Our Unicorn however, has a quirky sense of humor and transforms her into a boy. Love wakes up in a male body and is left unbelievably stupefied.
The transformation is uncanny, because James Teeradon cleverly exudes Love’s feminine energy while masking her exuberant attitude. This show is not a normal romance, where Love wins the “Prince Charming” with her audacious attempts. It is a retrospective journey that leads to character development and self-awareness. Armed with suggestions from her best friends, You & Me; Love enters the GMA with the sole aim of winning Vier’s affections. Instead, she is met with a horrific reality where she is forced to act like a man, while adjusting to her new life. GMA doesn’t afford her the time to adapt and Love is thrown into a pitfall where she learns to “Man Up”. Frankly, when the show starts Love is projected as annoying female lead and Vier as the “Classic Main Hero”. Great Men Academy is a clear case of “Presumptions can be wrong”. Frankly, GMA is unlike most schools; so instead of physical or biological subjects, we have life lessons interspersed with VR projections. The projects are realistic and tedious. As Love transverses through various roadblocks, she finally realises the true meaning behind love and relationships. This show is entirely Love’s journey (both the male and female versions). There are few who would argue that this show isn’t a BL, but I beg to differ. Because for most parts, Love is in the male form. This show presents an interesting canvas where Love merges her feminine thoughts on major issues (like the scene where Love clears the first year’s dining area, because obviously boys have no sense of cleanliness or personal hygiene). Love goes from being a self-absorbed person to becoming the “Greatest”; an incomprehensibly impossible feat!
The Beautiful, Yet Enchanting Romance
The most intriguing part about this fantasy drama is the beautiful chemistry between Tangmo (JJ Krissanapoom/ Jaylerr) and Love (James Teeradon). The pilot episode misleads us with the major misconception that Tangmo is a second lead character and his only purpose is to provide comic relief. He repeatedly teases or taunts Love and their camaraderie is explosive from the start. But when he becomes Love’s mentor, their romance kick starts. As he tutors Love on the intricacies of their school lessons; Love’s pointed questions help him mature into a more disciplined and focused individual. As their paths cross, Tangmo starts developing feelings for Love (without realizing Love’s true identity). The most striking scene is the one where Tangmo becomes more coherent about his feelings for Love; he is shocked and awestruck by these newfound affections for his incorrigible Junior. Jaylerr is so expressive and riveting; that’s the moment he wins your heart. Of course, true affections can inevitably become your weakness; especially when your best friend is a scheming bastard.
Throughout their unhinged romance, both Love and Tangmo develop a sense of mutual trust and understanding. While Love slowly begins viewing Tangmo in a new light (as Vier’s manipulative nature becomes more apparent), Tangmo’s emotions morph into love. I was actually stunned by their natural chemistry; it is effortless and unique. Their confession scene was out of the world, because it threw normal countenances out of the window. As the outward forces try to tear them apart, Love is forced to reject Tangmo. It was hurtful to watch Love scream “I’m not Gay”. Shockingly it is true, but to Tangmo’s understanding it seems humiliating. While they fight for the Greatest Man title, Tangmo suffers from cardiac arrest. His condition puts things in a new perspective for Love, who gives up on his own wish to save Tangmo’s life. It also helps Love understand and accept his affection for Tangmo. Love decides to embrace the male form as well as his love for Tangmo. Since the love story ends between a well-executed kiss between Tangmo and Love, this one is obviously a BL. No doubts whatsoever!
A Potboiler of Classic Supportive Characters
This show has an interesting mix of side characters that support the main character’s journey throughout. Firstly, Love’s friends You and Me; they easily accept her ability to transform into a male form. No questions asked; they love her in either form and they are her guiding spirits. Whenever Love feels let down, You and Me encourage her to achieve her goals. She mostly meets them in her female form, but they are the ones who guard her secret and render constant support.
Next on the list are the quirky teachers in GMA. They are hilarious and might seem lazy, but their lessons are interesting and life changing. It could be the sessions where they tie the freshmen with their seniors in “Mentor- Mentees” relationship, trying to mold their characters. You have to understand that the main goal of GMA is to mold their students into Great Men; both physically and intellectually. As such, instead of boring classroom lessons; students are put through tedious tasks that shape their personalities. While this seems unrealistic, the values gained are truly phenomenal. Watching a teacher project a ghost spirit should be scary; especially when the said ghost causes massive short circuits. But it wasn’t, because in the end, the terrified students learned the importance of empathy and forgiveness.
Love’s relationship with the rest of the cast is equally important. Love’s roommate Menn’s (Jackie Jackrin) characterization might seem annoying. He spends the first half being obsessed with Love’s female form and trying to win her affections. This character undergoes a major change when he realises that feelings can’t be forced. Menn subsequently grows to become a formidable player in the Greatest Men Contest. Unlike Love and Menn, their friend Nuclear (Third Lapat) is a complete contrast. He is undeniably charming, cunning and majorly portrayed as a playboy. Frankly, Nuclear represent the distinct faction of men who are callous and unfaithful. His tricks fail to impress the new girl on the block and that forces him to reassess his behavior.
Lastly, Love’s interesting dynamics with elder brother Good (Porsche Sivakorn) definitely needs a mention. Their relationship is like most siblings, Good is strict and disciplined while Love is the exact opposite. They don’t seem to get along and bicker endlessly. As the story progresses, Love gets to interact with Good in the school environment and realises that there is a different and vulnerable side to her elder brother; a side he keeps well hidden. As he comes to terms with the alternate reality where his sister is now a boy, Good becomes Love’s sounding board. He renders his unhindered support, so that Love has a chance to win the contest. Honestly, these two deserve the “Best Siblings Award”.
I Have A “Love-Hate” Relationship With These Two
I have never met a more deceiving character than Veir. He majorly portrayed as the invincible Hero on the GMA campus and is the current title holder. He is handsome, well mannered and soft-spoken. The literal definition of the “Perfect Main Lead”. But as the story progresses, we see the chinks in his armor. Veir is actually very insecure and also manipulative. While the pilot episodes depict him in a positive light, his interactions with Love and his rude demeanor unmask his true nature. His difficult relationship with his Father (who is a Legend at GMA) might be the reason for his woes, but his flaws are his own fault. Veir has no qualms about using people for his own benefits or hurting them in negative ways for his own personal gains. His relationship with ex-girlfriend Rose is seemingly caustic and confusing. While they still seem to be in love, Veir refrains from accepting her request for reconciliation.
I personally feel that the most shocking trajectory in this show (apart from Love) was related to Rose/Sean. While Rose seems suspicious and vicious; her male form Sean (Captain Chonlathorn) is kind, caring and understanding. Rose has received the same kind of wish (as Love) which helps her shift between the male and female forms. Like Love, Rose enrolls in GMA under the pretense of acting like Sean, Rose’s younger brother. Sean spends a lot of time tailing Veir, so when Rose sees Veir falling for Love; her hackles rise. Sean confronts Love, but the knowledge that Love can’t transform back into her female form turns the table. Sean turns oddly empathetic and guards Love’s secret. Captain’s depiction was so swoon worthy that I couldn’t hate him whatsoever. In the end, Sean chooses to give up on his love, instead of turning into a vengeful antagonist. That is praiseworthy; you need to know when to stop!
Veir on the other hand, goes through various stages of denial, anger, retribution and revenge before he settles down and tries to redeem himself. Veir is certainly one of the most deceitful character in the entire BL universe. He has no redeemable qualities and yet you can’t help but feel sorry for him. His journey wasn’t an easy one, but still Veir could have been so much better. Another aspect of his personality that remains hidden are his feelings for Love. Obviously he panics on learning about Love’s affections. Even on realizing that Love is actually a girl, he still puts up barriers. While some scenes clearly define his growing interest in Love, his backstabbing attempt to publicize Love and Tangmo’s relationship was clearly a downer. Who does that to a person they like/love? Since his feelings were left unexplored, we might never know if Vier truly liked Love or he was just immensely jealous of his best friend’s good fortune?
Great Men Academy is decidedly one of my favorite BL dramas now. The cinematography is brilliant and the storytelling is immersive. There is not a single moment where you feel slighted or bored. Each character has a comparative curve of growth and their stories are beautifully entangled. For most parts, Love is at the center of this entanglement; as he impacts other people with his daring thoughts and honesty. I have mostly written this review, keeping in mind that Love is majorly depicted in his male form. Like mentioned before, some might find fault with that fact because Love was originally a girl. But I believe that there is a reason why the scriptwriters choose to depict Love mostly in his male form than the female version. They were clearly trying to target the BL fans and it worked. While there are some potholes (like the poorly executed Greatest Competition scenes), the story doesn’t lose its grip and is steadfastly. Great Men Academy doesn’t fall into the normal cliches that categorize the BL genre; the show has a refreshing outlook and the characters have a mindset of their own. Their endeavour to better themselves was truly inspiring. Rewatch value is high; you would definitely want to revisit this drama twice or thrice. Exceptional and incomparable!
Rating- 4 out 5