(7/19/2021 EDIT: The original article had the airing date of Love sick wrong, which is weird considering that elsewhere in this site I have it correctly listed as 2014. I apparently confused the airing of S2 with S1. My apologies!) In July of this year, Love Sick turns 7 years old! The series, which first aired on MCOT’s Channel 9 is widely regarded as the “mother of all Thai BL series”. In this blog post, I will reflect on how Love Sick helped spawn the BL industry in Thailand, which of it is influences are still felt in BL, how its creators and actors have continued to influence the BL industry, and how viewer’s expectations have been changed by Love Sick and how that has affected writers and producers of BL in Thailand.
The Emergence of Thai BL
When Love Sick the series first aired seven years ago, I doubt anyone could have predicted it is impact in the Thai mediascape. Remember that at that point, most Thais were not familiar with “wai series” (BLs). Love sick was the first Thai series in which the main story was a BL story. To my knowledge, Love Sick is the first teenage romantic gay series to air anywhere in the world. Thus, we can truly describe this series as ground-breaking and a trend-setter. While some may argue that SOTUS or Love by Chance helped BL become an international sensation, I would counter that it was Love Sick that took the first steps in raising the profile of Thai BL all over the world.
Studying the roots of Thai BL, we find Love of Siam, which was released in 2007. Love of Siam is a movie about love, or as the director so poetically puts it in the epilogue, the movie is about “all the loves that brings us to life”. However, the plot of the movie revolves around the story of two boys who fall in love. This movie became a sleeper hit in Thailand and turned Mario Maurer into a household superstar. Revisionist may argue that Love of Siam is the first Thai BL, but I think that Love of Siam is the precursor of Thai BL and not BL proper. If Love Sick is the mother, Love of Siam is the great-grandmother or the ancestor of Thai BL. In Love of Siam, we see some early conventions of Thai BL such as the emphasis on romance instead of sex, something that was perhaps inherited from Japanese BL (or it was simply an indirect product of Thai censorship), the non-judgmental supportive friends, the emphasis on first love, and the avoidance of the word “gay” in the narrative. However, at its heart, Love of Siam is not a BL but a queer movie with a BL façade.
Nevertheless, Love of Siam succeeded in exposing Thai people to the idea that two boys falling in love could be romantic, sweet and deeply moving. Love of Siam’s popularity coincided with the K-wave in Thailand. Soon fujoshis began shipping K-pop band members and created written stories about their ships. This gave rise to the popularity of fanfic which eventually led to publication of various novels. Dek-D.com, a youth-oriented website, became a place to exchange fanfic and BL novels (dek means child in Thai). Love Sick was adapted from a novel written by a woman known in Dek-D as INDRYTIMES (GMMTV would later pick another Deck-D novel to make into a series, SOTUS).
Love sick has all of the conventions that we associate with Thai BL: the focus on romance, negative stereotypes about women, Uke/Seme dynamics, the use of contrived situations to get the MCs together, the use of kathoeys to contrast with the masculine MC, accepting friends, and the insertion of a fujoshi into the story. While some of these could have been inherited from the slap/kiss lakorns which Love Sick is derived from or adapted from Japanese BL, these are now uniquely “Thai BL” and it is clear that this series led the way. In addition, Love Sick establishes some common and not so common BL tropes such as the fake boyfriend (e.g 2Gether), the undeserving girlfriend (e.g Tonhon, MIR), the indecisive and insecure Uke (e.g 2Gether, MIR, SOTUS, Oxygen, HCTM, My Engineer), as well as many others Seme/Uke tropes.
Below is a short list of some of the ways in which Love Sick was a pioneer in the Thai BL genera and the way in which the legacy of Love Sick still lives on in Thai BL:
Internationalization of BL
Love sick became an international hit thanks to the fact that it was available in several languages. We can’t talk about Love Sick’s success without talking about Kuda Lakorn, the subber who took it upon herself to translate not only the novel but the entire series into English. For personal reasons, she never finished either but she completed about 90% of the novel and 80% of the series. Because of her, thousands of people across the world were able to enjoy Love Sick. Later shows were translated by groups of volunteer fans until GMMTV and other outlets began offering professionally translated subs for international fans. In 2018, when I first started watching BLs, official translations were rare and most shows were fan subbed. By 2019, some series had official subs but these were not available immediately. It was not until 2Gether The Series, which aired during the 2020 pandemic, that subs were finally available at the same time the episode was released.
But none of this would have been possible without Love Sick and the enormous effort of Kuda Lakorn. Kuda is a true unsung heroine.
Adaptation of a popular Thai BL Novel
Before Love Sick, all the BL stories were side stories and were written by professional screen writers. Love Sick was adapted from a book written by a BL fan for BL fans. Subsequent series have been adapted from books, including 2Gether, TharnType, Love by Chance, 2Moons2, Make It Right, SOTUS, and Tale of 1000 Stars.
When Noh asks Phun what would he want if nothing else mattered in the world, Phun answers “I want Noh”. These three simple words (or is it 4 in Thai?) represent a pivotal point in the development of Thai BL. The producers of Love sick knew this was a significant event because they used this line to end the Shake video they used to promote the show before it aired. The line itself became well known, because I remember White talking about it in an interview that came out around the time that the first season ended. BL stories had ambiguous or bittersweet endings before Love Sick (e.g. Love of Siam) so this represented a significant departure from conventional stories in which the characters would have to put their happiness on hold for the sake of the family or to “save face”. I encourage you to see my review of Episode 8 for my in-depth analysis of this scene and my explanation of why I cried when I first watched it. In a nutshell, by allowing Phun to openly talk about his feelings for Noh and by allowing Phun and Noh to consummate their relationship (they had sex right after that scene), Love Sick raised the bar for showing positive images of homosexual relationships on Asian TV (and perhaps anywhere in the world for that matter). As I mentioned above, no longer did the gays had to hide in the shadow, and no longer was the “kill your gay” trope needed to balance things out and make gay romance more palatable to a generic straight audience. This is the biggest legacy of Love Sick and that scene in Episode 8 is when the tables turned.
A positive spin
As Thai BL fans, we are used to BL stories with happy endings which generally give a positive outlook on gay life. If you watch any BL story, you expect the couple to end up together, their friends and family to accept them eventually and you don’t believe anyone would ever even entertain the thought of making fun of them for being gay. In fact, the word gay is never used to describe themselves and it is rarely used by others to describe the MCs.
In response to Jeed calling him gay, Noh replies “I call it love”. Thus, Love Sick establishes that the word “gay” is a label and in the BL world, love has no labels. Hence, the the L in BL. 😉More importantly, Love Sick got the audience used to gay stories with happy endings and in which the main couple ends up together. With the exception of The Shipper, most Thai BLs that have aired since Love Sick have a happy ending for the main couple and rarely involve tragedy or the “kill your gays” trope that is so prevalent in other parts of the world.
Love sick featured the first teenage-boy-on-teenage-boy screen kiss in BL [EDIT: Hormones may have had a kiss but was it the same thing???]. What would have been scandalous in the United States, a 16-year old boy (Captain) kissing a 19-year old man (White), was apparently not expected to be controversial in Thailand. However, it was controversial. This was not a fake kiss. Captain and White touched lips. Another kiss that did not air had both of them open their mouth and simulate a real kiss. Because the first kiss was so controversial, the second kiss was never aired. Thanks to YouTube, we can still see it. White and Captain have said there were even more kisses written on the script which they actually did film but these never aired and have never surfaced. To this day I am unsure if the controversy had more to do with it being a homosexual kiss or with the age difference between the actors.
When MIR aired right after Love Sick Season 2 ended, kissing had taken a couple of steps backwards. Most MIR kisses are awkwardly filmed and even more awkwardly acted. My guess is that the censors at MCOT, the channel in which the series aired, got up in arms and decided to make sure no real kisses aired again on their network. It was not until several years later, when 2Moons and SOTUS aired that real kisses were back. And the Thai BL hasn’t been the same since…
Noh and Phun do a lot of hand holding, perhaps a story element that was directly derived from Yaoi manga. I have called it “hand-holding porn” and Captain and White are great at it. The way P’Andy filmed these scenes, and the way that Captain and White acted it out, it is both romantic and erotic. In addition, Captain’s gaze and the way White sometimes smiles at him just seem to convey a lot of feels. Later shows would often mimic Love Sick’s “hand holding porn” but it didn’t always work well. I think you need the right actors for this to work. For example, in MIR this didn’t always work but Oxygen and My Gear did it a lot better.
In the Love sick novel, Pang is a fujoshi character who is obsessed with BL and who ships Noh and Phun. In the series, she also ships her friends Shay and Pop, and she often gets lost on her own thoughts. She stares at them with the “fujoshi gaze”, a sort of gesture taken right out of a manga, with her eyes wide open and a grin on her face. She is a stand-in for all of us who want the main ship to sail. Later BLs featured similar characters who gawk at and drool over the MCs (e.g. Oxygen, 2Moons2, My Engineer, The Shipper).
The Kathoey Chorus
I don’t know if this is a Love Sick invention or a lakorn narrative device that Love Sick adapted to BL but in Love Sick, MIR and other shows, a kathoey chorus serves as a narrative device to provide comments on the motivation of various characters or to comment on a variety of events in the series. The kathoey chorus was not in the Love sick novel. In Love Sick and MIR, they also provide comedic relief. This of course is problematic but I have talked about this issue already on previous blogs/episode analyses.
Either way, Love Sick was the first to establish a kathoey chorus with the specific function to editorialize the series and nearly break the fourth wall.
Love sick is a very positive story and one way this is reflected is in the way Noh’s friends accept him. In Season 1 this is a bit subtler, with his friends always joking about him and Phun. They tease him but they are not mean about it. In season 2, when Noh finally confesses, his friends are 100% supportive. I will be honest, I am so jealous of Noh and his friends! I imagine how nice it would have been to come out of the closet in high school and have your friends be 100% supportive. Again, this is not exactly something that Love Sick pioneered because we see it in Love of Siam first, but is something that influenced other Thai BLs. BL stories are not about queer identity but about romance so there is no time to spend in identity and acceptance issues. Instead, most BLs sweep these issues under the rug. A few exceptions are Tonhon, He’s coming to me, and My Gear. However, even in these series the “coming out” and the identity crisis are not the focal point of the story. True BLs are always centered around the romantic attraction between the two male leads, any other issues are secondary and never take the front seat.
In Love sick Season 2, we get multiple BL couples, something that seems to be common in BLs after Love Sick. I am not sure if S2 pioneered this, because many of the BL novels probably predate the airing of S2 and multiple couple seems to be common in BL novels. However, what the Love sick writers did was purely fanservice because the book did not emphasize any of these couples, they were merely hinted at in the book. This desire of the writers to please the fans is known as fanservice and LS S2 definitely set the standard for this type of fanservice. Later series, like MIR and SOTUS followed Love sick, with multiple couples in their second season just for the sake of offering fanservice.
Thomas Baudinette wrote an article on the journal South East Asia Research about how Love Sick represents an adaptation of Japanese BL to the Thai mediascape in a process that he terms “glocalization”. In this article, he points out that neither Phun nor Noh are clearly identified as Seme or Uke. This is in fact one of the biggest differences between Japanese and Thai BL. Even now, most Thai BL series do not have the very obvious physical differences between Seme and Uke characters that you see in a BL manga. In most Thai BL series, the Seme and Uke are around the same age and height, thought the Seme is usually a little taller or a little older like in Love sick Season 1. Note that in Love Sick season 2, Captain actually grew taller than White so this didn’t hold true for the second season (In the book Noh is described as small, scrawny and delicate). While in most Thai BLs, the Seme is taller than the Uke, there has been some exceptions, such as PeteKao, TharnType and SarawatTine. However, for most couples the height difference is not much if at all, such as the couples in My Engineer or may be completely reversed such as PureFolk in My Gear. Instead, what I have noticed is that in Thai BL the Seme and the Uke are from different social classes, with the Seme usually being of a higher social class or having more money than the Uke. This is the case of Love Sick and this convention is followed in many other series (e.g. MIR, DBK, Tonhon, Oxygen, Tharntype, 2Moons), thought this is not always the case as sometimes the Uke is of a higher social class (e.g. 1000 stars, My Gear). Other conventions that Love Sick either establishes, imports from Japanese BL or adapts from Thai Lakorns include:
1) The Seme feeding the Uke. Phun pays for Noh’s food, he brings him treats and he sometimes even spoon feeds Noh. Thought this is not as evident in Season 1, it will be more evident in Season 2.
2) The Seme pursuing the Uke. Phun pursues Noh first. In the book we learn that Phun had been in love with Noh since elementary school. I believe this is something that was inherited from Japanese Yaoi.
3) The Uke being unsure or undecided about his sexuality. In Episode 11 Noh acts playful around the female server. During season 1, he is constantly concerned about Yuri. In an early episode, he slaps himself in the face and agonizes over his feelings for Phun. Also, Noh shows ambivalence about his feelings for Phun and is often annoyed that Phun is so persistent. Remember that Seme’s represent the prototypical male protagonist of a lakorn. I guess that in Thai society it is expected that the male is the pursuer and that the woman is the “choosy” one. Thus, Ukes like Noh are usually portrayed as undecisive and unsure of their sexuality (e.g. SOTUS, 2Gether, MIR, My Gear, Oxygen, I am your King 2, My Engineer). However, sometimes the Seme has a sexual identity crisis too (e.g. My Engineer, Tonhon, He’s Coming To Me).
4) The Uke is pursued by a second male lead. Since I am not a lakorn expert and I haven’t watched too many Japanese BLs, I am not sure where this comes from but in J-dramas, the female is often pursued by a second male lead. In Lovesick, Noh is pursued by Earn. We see this pattern in almost every single Thai BL that has aired since, with few exceptions (He’s Coming To Me and SOTUS are the only series that come to mind). What stands out to me is not the fact that there is a second male lead but that the second male lead pursues the Uke and not the Seme. This is even true in the few cases in which the Uke is more proactive in pursuing the Seme (e.g. Tonhon, 1000 stars). Love Sick is an early example of this “rule”.
5) The Seme is sexually experimented and the Uke is virginal. Phun had sex with Aim before he had sex with Noh. Noh was a virgin. We see this time and again in every Thai BL I have watched, with the Seme usually having previous experience with women (e.g MIR, Tonhon, I am your king 2, 3 Will be Free, ToL, My Gear), men (e.g. Tharntype) or perhaps it is left unspecified (e.g. 2gether, Oxygen).
I should mention that someone once pointed out to me something that seems to hold true for every SemeUke pairing in Thai BL: skin tone differences. In most Thai BLs the Seme will be darker than the Uke. This is true for Love Sick, as White is slightly more tanned than Captain, while Ngern, Napian, and Sing are all darker than their respective Ukes in Season 2. You can also see this pattern in SOTUS, MIR, DBK, 2Moons, 2Moons2, Oxygen, My Gear, etc. I don’t know for a fact the reason behind this but I surmise it has to do with either the fact that an Uke is expected to be delicate (fair skin = delicate in Thai culture) or because, as someone else pointed out to me, dark Thai men tend to have a bigger… I will leave that to your imagination. 😊
The Love Sick Connection
Almost every major BL produced in the last six years has a direct connection to Love Sick in some way or another:
MIR was created by the same folks behind Love Sick (P’Andy, Cheewin and New).
My Tee was directed by P’Andy.
Oat (Mick) appears in both MIR season 2 and Love Sick Season 2. He is White Nawat’s cousin.
New has directed a number of BLs (Love by Chance, Love Mechanics, UWMA), while Cheewin has directed a number of other popular BLs (Why RU?, YYY, That’s my Candy).
Actors from Love Sick have been main or supporting in many BLs (SOTUS, Waterboyy the movie and Waterboyy the series, He’s coming to me, Tonhon, 2Gether, 3 Will be Free, Great Men Academy, Theory of Love, 1000 stars, MIR, UWMA, 2Moons2).
White, Sing, Gunsmile, and Toptap signed up with GMMTV, the largest and most important studio in Thailand. White and Captain appeared in the U-Prince series which aired on GMM25. Captain signed with a separate studio which is also owned by GMM Grammy while the other 4 actors stayed with GMMTV.
August who played Pete in Love Sick, sings the OST for 2moons2. Boysompob who sings Shake, also did the OST for Waterboyy the movie, Love by Chance and UWMA, while Captain did one of the songs in Waterboyy the series.
A large number of actors from the cast have become highly successful. Captain was for the longest time, the most followed BL actor on Instagram until Bright dethroned him in 2020. August has been in a series of very corny but apparently decently popular movies and is pretty much a movie star now (I will be honest, he is a terrible actor LOL). White has probably gotten the most consistent work of all the actors, appearing in Theory of Love, 1000 stars, Waterboyy, Beauty Boy, and a bunch of non-BL series from GMMTV. On the other hand, Toptap and Gunsmile have become very popular lately after appearing in 2gether the series. Sing has been in the highly popular non-BL series The Gifted and because of that he also enjoys a large following on his Instagram.
Fun facts about Love Sick
The casting process took approximately two years.
The word gay is never used in the series to describe any of the main characters, though Jeed does ask Noh if he is gay. This tradition was carried on by subsequent BLs, including Make It Right, SOTUS and 2Moons, in which the characters never refer to themselves as gay and the word gay is rarely uttered.
At 48 Episodes long (Plus the Reminders Special), Love Sick is the longest same-cast BL ever produced anywhere in the world.
There are several “forbidden chapters” which the author has explicitly asked not to be translated. The chapters contain explicit depictions of Noh and Phun’s sexual escapades. I think the reason the author does not want this chapters translated has to do with child pornography laws abroad.
Assistant Director New Siwaj went on to direct many BLs, including Love by Chance, UWMA, My Gear, MIR, Reminders and Love Mechanics
New is Captain’s (Noh) cousin. Primrose (Aim) and Captain are also cousins. Oat Tharathon (Mick) and White Nawat are cousins.
Assistant Director Cheewin, went on to direct many BLs, including MIR, Why RU?, YYY, Y Destiny, and That’s my candy. He also directed the bromance, You Never Eat Alone
Cheewin has a cameo scene in Love Sick that was cut out of the Netflix version but that is included in the original aired version. He plays an effeminate gay man who teases Nueng at the mall.
In the credits for the promotional OST video for Love Sick (Shake) the production team thanks “White’s dads van”
The Netflix version of Love Sick Season 1 is missing some scenes from the original broadcast version.
Captain is a singer. He sings several of the songs in the OST. In 2019, Captain joined a boy band named 9×9.
Several PhunNoh kiss scenes were filmed but only one was aired in Season 1. A second kiss scene was played at a fan meet and is now available on YouTube.
In the beginning, Captain and White did not do fanservice but later they relented to the pressure of the fans. The fanservice they did was pretty bland (hugging or holding each other, etc) compared to the fanservice that is done nowadays.
MCOT did not provide official subs for the series. Instead, Kuda Lakorn (pen name) who translated the novel, also subbed the series and songs. Sadly, for personal reasons she never finished the novel translation and stopped subbing the series around Season 2 Episode 28.
GMM Grammy owns the rights for the second season’s OST
New Siwaj produced Reminders as a way to tie the Love Sick universe with the Love by Chance universe. In Reminders, he pays tribute to Love of Siam, the first Thai BL movie, by having Phun quote a line from a poem that is also quoted in Love of Siam, “As long as you love, you will still have hope”
Oat Tharathon is the only actor to play a secondary character in both Make It Right and Love Sick. Cheewin made a cameo on both series.
The two oldest actresses (and the only ones with significant acting experience in the cast) were Gale Nungira (Jeed) and Puyfah Sita (Mo). The rest of the cast consisted of novice actors.
Most of the cast members were real-life high school students.
Captain (Noh) use to call White (Phun) “Mafia”, because White was always surrounded by a large entourage of friends.
The first season aired over a satellite channel but the second season aired over a terrestrial channel.
Sing (Per) and Pinare (Yuri) use to date behind the scenes. They are no longer together but remain friends.
From time to time, some of the cast members get together and attend each other’s major life events. White was at Ngern’s (Earn) graduation. Napian (Ohm Season 2) attended Min’s graduation. Captain was at White’s ordainment. The cast also seems to get together with White for dinner every now and then.
In total, about 96 actors were casted in the series, most of them had never acted before.
The Season 2 soundtrack was partly produced by New.
A bonus song, “My Heart Has Only You”, was released after the season 1 finale. It is the only song in the OST featuring White Nawat’s voice.