“Life Goes On”
-Last line in La Cuisine
This is literally the last line in this prosaic but didactic BL series. And that line should have been its title. Naming it La Cuisine almost did it an injustice. While cooking is what connects the protagonists, it is not its centerfold. What is its mantra is seeing humanity’s shortcomings through eyes of compassion, mercy, clemency with a strong overtone of ‘judge not lest ye be judged’. La Cuisine implies it is simply another of the endless Thai BLs about cooking. While it certainly starts out that way, it does not end that way. It is a story of personalities, foibles, and mental illnesses with an almost laser-focus intent to forgive transgressions and to not superficially judge a person until “you have walked a mile in their shoes.” I felt shame watching this. And I am uncomfortable admitting that. I saw the actions in this series only through my eyes, which are honestly and admittedly judgmental. This series made me feel guilty about that. The chain-of-events taught me to see and feel the pain of others through their eyes; not mine. And how I too judged these characters on their superficialities.
It is a story of unlikelies. The most popular guy on campus is Ram (Pop Pataraphol). He is an architectural student blessed with not only with good-looks but wealth and has an amiable personality-almost unassuming. He never gets carried away with his own perceived importance. In fact, it is as if he does not understand it. Even from the beginning, he never feels invested in any one individual. While seemingly approachable, he remains distant. He does have close friends that have known him for a long time, but to a degree he seems detached for reasons that make sense to him. Meanwhile, we have LukChub (Mick Monthon). A painfully shy individual who manages to have endearing qualities about him that attracts others to him without him really trying. Likeable, adorable, yet seriously withdrawn, unassuming, and deferential. He excels in his chosen career path of cooking, specifically desserts. He is the person who sees only ‘good’ and his personal mantra is forgiveness.
Ram is an astonishingly picky eater and by chance tastes something made by LukChub. He is taken in by his skills. This thrills LukChub to no end since he has had an intense crush on Ram for a long time. He makes Ram a specialty desert just for him and Ram is smitten. (As a side note, there is a Thai dessert that LukChub does make that is similarly named to LukChub. I found that to be a wonderfully creative play-on-words and a nice homage).
And this begins their journey to discovery.
In this discovery, we find out why LukChub is so painfully shy and withdrawn. Apparently, it has taken him a long time to even get to this point in his development. Almost immediately, he is thrown into the limelight because of his budding relationship with Ram. This kind of scrutiny and gossip about him terrifies LukChub. We fully do not appreciate LukChub’s irrational fears, his meekness, and shyness until the end of the series, when it all comes together to make sense. Perhaps I was too quick to judge him for his vulnerabilities as being overprotected rather than understanding what the depth of his pain was like.
Ram is an interesting character. Rich does not quite describe him. In addition, he has an unbelievably understanding family. Yet, his personality is always so laid back, if, dare I say it, boring. He too, like LukChub, never deviates from his initial behavioral pattern. It became a bit too laid-back for me to appreciate. I find non-emotional individuals too one-dimensional and feel as they are always hiding something. For example, when he admits to liking LukChub and wants him to be his boyfriend, it all felt so empty, shallow and unemotional. It was like watching someone ordering food at a restaurant. It felt rather anti-climactic.
The screenplay in this series is sharp, crisp, and brilliant. Two of many examples of this, I shall note. One is when Ram’s friend pleads with him to make his intentions known clearer to others and not just assume that they know what he is thinking. Wise advice and ironically, a major issue with a lot of Thai BLs. The mixed messages that are given off by characters who think they are clear but are not. This advice goes unheeded until it was almost too late. The second example is from LukChub’s friend, Paitong (Boom Pavornbhubodintr). While everyone else is pleased and encouraging LukChub to foster the relationship with Ram, Paitong knows Lukchub, how sensitive he is, how hurt he can become and is unequipped to deal with that kind of emotional pain if he is being played. Initially, I thought he himself might have had a secret crush on LukChub and was jealous, but it seems more in line with a deep affection for his friend’s feelings. More importantly, Paitong also grounded LukChub, and in essence, gave him the courage and encouragement to not judge people only on exterior reasons. He was always the voice of reason, rationale, and understanding. It was a beautiful display of sensibility and focus against all the forces thinking his reasonings were unjustified or pedantic (including my own reaction to him as well). In the end, he provided the discreetness that LukChub needed to enter this relationship with caution and keeping his eyes wide-open. An astonishing display of true friendship and outstanding character development.
Ram has a female friend named NamNing (Brownie Suratnamiporn) who considers Ram her boyfriend. However, she is barely a friend and not even that close. Her perception is quite far from reality. But since Ram is top in his class and sought after by many, she becomes even more fixated on him. While his friends warn Ram that he needs to make it clear to NamNing that she is just a friend (at best), he never really does. Therefore, as the budding relationship between Ram and LukChub develops, NamNing becomes more devious and deceitful in trying to thwart their relationship. Her mindset is that LukChub is stealing something that is already hers. Eventually, she resorts to cruelty as she figures out LukChub’s internal vulnerabilities.
For me, there were really two performers who stood out with any significance. One, quite literally, is the story. And that distinction belongs to Brownie as NamNing. Initially, my reaction (preconceived) of her was that she was yet another disenfranchised female and an evil manipulator. This looked like something right out of the trope playbook. Yet, as the story develops, we see way more to her manipulative behaviors than jealousy. She became a profoundly sad figure that is in need of serious mental health treatment. What made this so unique is that no one saw the warning signs, especially her immediate family. I found her story not just sad, but I felt an astonishing empathy for her. Do not mistake that for excuses for her behaviors, but as an understanding of how she became who she was. It was like watching a slow-motion train moving into a dark tunnel of irrationality and she never had a clue where the train was headed until her reality was lost. Her performance was one of the best acting performances I have seen in a very long time in a BL. She was brilliant. It was a character you wanted to hate, but you ended up feeling as if life cheated her. She took this role from a trope-like caricature to a person who completely lost contact with reality and did so before our eyes, almost unperceivable. I found myself having greater feelings for her than anyone else. Her terrifying sense of loneliness, abandonment, and the sheer panic she felt for having committed these horrendous acts were realistic. The fact that no one seemingly wants to stay with her from now on, without honestly understanding her own actions. She became child-like. That was powerful and she emoted them with an unbelievable realism. She stole my heart and made me realize how judgments without understanding are cruel. In that same vein, while not as intensely, I found Boom’s performance, as LukChub’s best friend Paitong, noteworthy as well. Seemingly jealous of the budding relationship between Ram and LukChub (although I am not totally convinced, he was not attracted to LukChub), he protected LukChub. He knew LukChub better than anyone else, perhaps even better than LukChub himself. He knew of his vulnerabilities and weaknesses and how easy it was for him to crumble from the pressure of people judging him especially inaccurately. He may be overprotected LukChub but his reasons were sound. I felt as if he guided LukChub to develop his own sense of fairness and understanding, even when it seemed naïve. While others condemned NamNing, Paitong seemed to take the high road of compassion. He focused on teaching others not to be so quick in judging. While this role is not very significant, his presence is what stabilizes LukChub and the group. His acting is brilliant, and he was a joy to watch, as he is the moral compass for the group. Exceptional kudos to both these performers.
However, this series is not without its drawbacks. This is a long and rather complicated story with subplots that I found to be rather distracting. There were way too many characters that added triviality to the story with no real enhancement. The family dynamics for the main characters were mind-boggling and difficult to understand, although they made a valiant effort to make it plausible. While LukChub’s shyness was cute and adorable in the beginning, it did get to be too repetitive and too much of a reliance to not show any growth for LukChub. It is so easy to slip back into a familiar behavioral pattern and for that to become a gimmick. I wish the script would have given LukChub more growth, even incrementally, rather than simply relying on his painful past as excuses. Over time, the protection provided by his brother and Ram only created a bubble for LukChub to retreat to and not have to face the realities of adulthood. And that is not healthy and only continues to make him child-like and incapable of facing the tough road to life that lies before him. Therefore, he almost became a caricature.
The characterization of Ram remains consistent throughout and frankly, that is what made this story a bit boring. No matter how many times he was told to be clearer in his words and actions, he did not. It is a human trait, not necessarily a character flaw, but he seemingly did not learn from this experience until it was almost too late. His personality was so flat that, at least for me, I just did not see a connection, let alone a love connection between him and LukChub. Their love story is filled with cute fluff but has very little substance. It was filled with puppy-dog love and unicorns, but not much more.
Which brings me to what perplexed me the most about this series. The almost complete lack of any feeling of intimacy between LukChub and Ram. The assumption is that the audience is expected to accept that these two guys are in ‘love’ without a shred of overt or covert evidence of that. They never kissed. Hardly held hands. No hint of any type of affection, let alone intimacy. The story is ‘cute’ but shows no real depth of their feelings for each other, not even a hint of intimacy existing, or that they are even attracted to each other sexually. Why? At the end, there was a stunningly intimate kissing scene between Paitong and Ram’s best friend, Sky (Aarch Promarak). While there had been overtures of sexual tension between the two of them, when they suddenly ‘discovered’ each other, you could ‘tell’ they were attracted to each other. The dialogue between them in the car was one of the best written scenes in this series. It was full of innuendo and hidden meanings, but so erotic. And they passionately kissed in a car! They honestly showed more chemistry together in that brief moment than Ram and LukChub did in the entire series. None of that existed between Ram and LukChub except for cute, boyish, charming moments. So, why is it ok for a minor couple to show more intimacy between each other that was believable in a matter of a few moments; then a whole series of trying to make us believe that two guys are in ‘love’ with each other with not one hint of intimacy? (I would love for Paitong and Sky to have their own series).
This series was a disappointment in that it ended up just another typical, formulaic Thai BL series that makes us want to believe that love is all sugary sweet and magical moonbeams shining down on a land of make-believe and fairytales with no real sense of intimacy or serious love connection (like not one kiss). It is all play-acting. Yet, other characters can be real and act human; so, it is not merely prudishness. Why is it of late that our major protagonists in Thai BLs (for the most part) are not permitted to be real, or have real emotions, or have sexual feelings and/or tensions and express them, or allow us to see any kind of predilection between them other than endless staring at each other or impish looks or cute smiles? How about some adulthood intensity for a change?
What is further perturbing is that the overall morality of this story of maintaining a non-judgmental attitude, compassion, and forgiveness towards others was so rigorously displayed on an intellectual basis but then got lost on characters who could not match their emotions on the same level, save Paitong and NamNing. Too bad. This really could have been a great series, but just never got there for me.
Rating: 3 out of 5