There is a table in Soontaree Thiprat’s Phuket cafe which is always full. Most of his customers at the Dibuk restaurant want to sit in the corner, at the place with the red tablecloth and the purple flower.
This is the table where male student characters Teh and Oh-aew, played by actors Putthipong “Billkin” Assaratanakul and Krit “PP” Amnuaydechkorn, used to sit together and flirt. I spoke of you at sunset and its sequel, I promised you the moona romantic Thai series that has proven hugely popular in its home country and abroad.
The show’s devoted fans, who have flocked not only from all over Thailand but also from Japan, Korea and Vietnam, pose for photos while waiting to dine at Billkin and PP’s lair. “They are screaming so much I would like to call an ambulance,” Soontaree said.
I spoke of you at sunset is part of a recent wave of Thai dramas known as “boys’ love” (BL) – also called the “Y” series in Thailand – whose portrayal of gay romance has attracted large audiences across the Asia. Already, 17 Thai BL series have been released this year, while 43 have been released in 2020 and 2021, according to the fan site. Blwatcher.com.
The romcom drama series 2 setone of the biggest hits of the BL genre, surpassed 100 million views on the Line TV streaming platform just a few months after its release.
As Thailand attempts to rebuild its travel industry, the country’s tourism authority has sought to capitalize on its popularity, hosting “Thai BL” booths at a recent marketing event in Osaka, Japan, where dramas are particularly popular, and managing a Japanese language. Twitter account profiling locations featured in famous scenes.
Private companies have also reacted to the trend. The Japanese company HIS recently organized online tours of the locations used for the filming of 2 setwhile some Thai language teachers have also started offering specialized lessons in slang used in BL dramas.
Monruethai Harada, a Thai teacher at Jaya & 3S Groups in Tokyo, said he saw a 20-30% increase in the number of students wanting to learn Thai after BL dramas became popular in 2020. Most of them they are women in their 30s, although a recent student was 75. “She really enjoys watching boy love dramas. She said it was the most thrilling and thrilling one ever,” Monruethai said.
While BL has its roots in Japanese manga, Thai production companies have transformed the genre by adapting it to television and producing a host of popular series, said Rujirat Ishikawa, assistant professor at the School of Studies. cultural and creative, based in Aoyama Gakuin in Tokyo. University. “In the past, I don’t think people believed there was a big market for boy romance dramas,” she said.
Thai BL dramas exploded for the first time in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. “Because of the Covid, [people] had a lot of time,” Ishikawa said.
In Japan, similar TV series are generally only available to viewers who have a paid subscription, but Thai broadcasters are more relaxed about downloading content online, Ishikawa said. “[Audiences] just say, ‘We watch it on YouTube, it’s free, why not?’ Fans often add subtitles in their language so others can also enjoy the dramas.
“You can see the power of the internet here and how it spreads,” Ishikawa said, adding that most fans are drawn to the show by the attractive male actors, often happy storylines and music.
For Thailand’s struggling tourism industry, the dramas’ popularity is good news, although commentators point out that the Thai government, despite talk of building the country’s soft power abroad, has struggled to embrace genre.
“Initially, the Thai state seemed to be in an awkward position regarding the broadcast of Thai BL drama through traditional media like free-to-air TV channels,” said Poowin Bunyavejchewin, a senior researcher at the Institute for BL Studies. East Asia from Thammasat University in Bangkok. “Yet man must eat. The Thai state needs money. It’s that simple.”
The majority of BL series are broadcast in Thailand on alternative smartphone-related platforms, such as Line TV, Poowin added, which “may allay the concerns of Thai conservatives, as the sweet erotic love between young men has not been very visible to them. . It also did not interfere with traditional soap operas broadcast on free-to-air television channels.
But some members of the LGBT community have mixed feelings about the dramas. BL offers a happier and more positive portrayal of same-sex relationships than elsewhere in Thai media, where gay love tends to end in tragedy, said Kangwan Fongkaew, a senior lecturer at Burapha University in the province. from Chonburi, who studied the representation of LGBT communities in Thai media.
But while it’s in some ways refreshing, BL dramas don’t offer true portrayals of society. They are generally focused on “puppy love” and omit the realities faced by gay men in Thailand, which still lacks basic rights such as equal marriage, Kangwan said.
Viewers, Kangwan added, “could misunderstand that Thailand is a gay paradise, which is totally wrong.”
The main characters are also mostly light-skinned, middle-class and educated, he said: “Boy love shows don’t reflect the true diversity of the LGBT community in Thai society, and this is why the stigma and discrimination against LGBT people is still present. happening right now.
But he also thinks dramas could bring change, especially if their portrayals of same-sex love become more nuanced or political: “I still have hope.”
Soontaree, who is gay, said she supports the BL series, adding that dramas are a powerful tool for Thailand: “I can see it clearly. When part 1 [of I Told Sunset About You] was on the air and it was Covid times, I was still getting some income from it because the fans came to visit the restaurant.
Although some visitors may be a little overwhelmed, she welcomes fans. If they’re busy taking pictures and enjoying the scene, she says, at least they won’t rush her to serve them: “They don’t push me to cook so fast.”