We live in an unfair world full of oppression where fighting for equality and freedom is an ongoing struggle that may never end.
But there’s hope in the fight.
Starring an incredible ensemble cast, the Thai lakorn To Sir, With Love delves into one such inequality: the fight for queer love.
Thai Lakorns aren’t new to me. With often exaggerated plots, dialogue, and action, they remind me of the soap operas my grandmother used to mumble at while working on her crochet projects. Barely a pre-teen, I’d sip on a cup of tea, secretly enjoying every tangled melodramatic moment. Soap operas are where my love for angst began. No matter how bad life got and how hopeless it seemed, at least people weren’t trying to poison me.
Like many Thai lakorns, To Sir, With Love starts with a dramatic flair, throwing viewers into the chaotic Song family and their internal power struggle during the 1930s-40s. As the head of the Five Dragon Guild, the Song Family is surrounded by scrutiny and expectation, especially the eldest son, Tian (Film Thanapat). But Tian hides a secret. He likes men, which is forbidden inside the Guild. This is further complicated when he falls in love with Jiu (Jam Rachata), a poor man taking questionable jobs to raise his younger siblings. Thus ensues a tumultuous power struggle surrounding a forbidden romance that captures the heart.
The gay love story inside To Sir, With Love steals the show, which is intentional since the entire plot and all of the characters’ decisions, rash or otherwise, stem from Tian’s hidden sexuality.
There’s a concerted, vivid effort throughout the series to deconstruct the premise that being gay makes a person less than. From the gasped, “he’s a homosexual!” to the innocent, “what is a homosexual?” to the murmured, “he’s inferior because he’s not a real man” to the hissed, “disgusting,” it becomes increasingly apparent with each scene that the secret Tian carries isn’t only forbidden, it also challenges his masculinity and position of power.
As overdramatic as the clasped chests and gasps could be in To Sir, With Love, there is truth in it. Society is often unable or unwilling to accept same-sex romances, even now in the modern era. And being gay inside a gender-focused world often comes with the preconceived notion that liking the same sex makes a person less masculine, less feminine, and less capable. It’s a toxic ideology that, even now in a much more accepting world, takes effort to deconstruct.
To Sir, With Love is filled with murder, mayhem, cover-ups, crazy supernatural poisonings, multiple wife catfights, deceit, and many misunderstandings. But artfully tucked inside all of this are two captivating love stories, a brotherly relationship that knows no bounds, and a group of strong, powerful women who turn the tides on the men who think they control them.
And there’s power in that.
While Tian and Jiu’s love story stole my soul, the real heart inside To Sir, With Love is Tian’s relationship with his half-brother, Yang (Tongtong Kitsakorn). Despite their bickering mothers, Tian and Yang manage to overcome the adversity thrust upon them to become remarkably close. Well aware of his brother’s sexuality from the beginning, Yang spends his entire childhood and young adulthood supporting Tian’s position in the family and the things Tian loves–Chinese soap operas, pretty clothes, and hairpins. Yang is a stalwart ally in a volatile world where Tian has no one and where Yang is taught to despise everything Tian is. Everything about Tian and Yang is warm, comfortable, and safe, from the teasing to the shared smiles to the promises and emotional hugs they share.
And it’s symbolic of the world we live in now, where community allies must overcome the misinformation and traditional beliefs spewed by those who see homosexuality as a sin and transgression rather than an acceptable form of love. Being gay doesn’t change who a person is.
There are other allies worth mentioning in this series, such as Song’s mistress, Bua (Kik Mayurin Pongpudpunth), and Tian’s fiancé (later sister-in-law), Pin (Milly Camilla Kittivat Kirn). Still, it’s Yang who remains Tian’s closest confidante. Their relationship delivers a thread of unquestionable hope that keeps the story focused even when everything else is falling apart around them.
This brings me to the women of To Sir, With Love. While some are questionable and power-hungry, such as Tian’s mother, Li (Pock Piyathida Mittiraroch), and Yang’s mother, Chan (Panward Hemmanee), none are weak. All of them faced their decisions with a staunch devotion that made me respect them even as I disliked their actions.
And all of them had powerful, scene-stealing, and emotional character arcs, showing a distinct change of character that left a deep impression.
And is, again, symbolic.
People make mistakes. People make regretful choices in the face of fear. People do things in the name of love that don’t always make sense. People crumble under the burden of a toxic ideology fed to them throughout their lives. But everyone is capable of change. Everyone can break free of the prejudices society has instilled in them.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Song’s (Saksit Tangthong) character arc. As the head of the Song family and the Five Dragon Guild, Tian and Yang’s father goes from dramatically driving a man to suicide over his revealed sexuality to accepting Tian’s sexuality.
All this madness brings me back to Tian and Jiu, the forbidden love story in the center of everything. Despite everyone’s attempts to pull them apart, they overcome immense adversity to be together. For To Sir, With Love to work, Tian and Jiu’s romance had to be believable and moving. Film and Jam delivered, offering outstanding chemistry and incredible acting.
To Sir, With Love is surprisingly deep and symbolic for an exaggerated lakorn that starts with gasps of “he’s a homosexual” before transitioning into glitter-induced poisonings and ending in a rainbow.
It’s well worth the watch.
I’ll never look at glitter the same way again.
For a vividly told, emotional story about overcoming adversity to love without restriction, check out To Sir, With Love now on the One31 YouTube Channel.
Rating- 4.5 out of 5
☆ Film Thanapat & Jam Rachata were recently featured in popular fashion magazines like Pause China, Posh Thailand, Epoch Magazine China, Spotlight Magazine China, Loading, Lifestyle Asia and Kazz Magazine.