As I’m revising my PhD research proposal, I have turned to escapism for a bit by indulging myself in the recent Thai drama series called Krong Kam (Thai: กรงกรรม), or loosely translated as “Cage of Karma”.
I haven’t watched many Thai drama series or lakorns since I relocated back to my own apartment early this year – I’m not a huge fan of drama series to begin with, but would occasionally (half-)watch a few here and there. There hasn’t been many remarkable ones from Channel 3, especially since last year’s Buppesannivas and also 2016’s Nakee, but Krong Kam captures my attention from Episode 1.
Krong Kam revolves around the conflicts between Yoi, a rich and hardworking but oftentimes stingy and aggressive Thai woman who marries into a traditional Chinese family in a town called Chum Saeng, and Renu, the pregnant wife of Yoi’s eldest son who was forced into prostitution due to a series of unfortunate events until she met her husband Achai.
Despite being of Thai descent, the “Chineseness” in Yoi runs evident with her business-mindedness, the way she manages her family of five men and her business/fortune, as well as her attempts at arranging endogamous marriages for her sons. Being a controlling woman, it’s either Yoi’s way or no way.
And this is until she crosses path with Renu, a strong-willed young lady who has gone through much adversity, is equally tough and can be as stubborn and set as herself.
Renu’s presence sends the whole family and even the town of Chum Saeng into chaos with Yoi trying to get rid of her “prostitute” daughter-in-law she never wants to associate her family with, and Renu resorting to various tactics in a skillful manner to counter her mother-in-law’s prejudice and hostility while attempting to blend herself into the new environment. Yoi thinks someone from a social class and with an occupation like Renu is dirty, a cheat and a gold-digger.
I like it how the character of Renu is not a typical one. She isn’t perfect and the kind of girl a typical Chinese family would want to associate with. She’s a battled soul. As a matter of fact, she has a seven-year-old child resulting from rape by the boyfriend of her very own sister when she was younger – this was the incident that brought her family into ruins before forcing her into prostitution.
Nevertheless, she steps out of the hell hole, holds her head high and vows not to ever return to the hole she crawled out of. She still accepts things as they are – her social class, her misfortune, her limited capability – and embraces life and challenges as they come.
Renu’s personality alternates between optimistic, witty and approachable, as well vigilant and cunning with tactics. She is smart, puts her best in the things she does, knows when and how to take advantage of her femininity and beauty, yet still knows her limits.
Coming from a Chinese family and an Asian society, I can relate too well to the story in Krong Kam. Yoi’s going mad with uncontrollable rage many a times in the series (at least up to Episode 5) is mainly due to the following reasons:
- Achai calling off his engagement (from an arranged marriage) to Pilai, the daughter of another well-off Chinese family, to be with Renu.
- Renu not being the typical daughter-in-law with her outspoken and versatile character – while she still respects Yoi as a mother-in-law, she does not take a back seat when pushed to the limit.
- Renu not being in the same social class as Yoi’s family, but the fact that she was a prostitute is perhaps the last straw.
Because of this, the dynamic of Yoi’s family is rapidly changed. While in the Chinese tradition the eldest son is often seen to play the most important role and will normally inherit a bigger portion of the family fortune than other siblings, with Renu coming into the picture, Yoi quickly arranged to have her ordained second son Atong leave monkhood and negotiated with Pilai’s family to have him take Achai’s place instead. As for Achai, his role as the eldest son is quickly demoted as he will not be given any inheritance.
Krong Kam may be one of the many Thai lakorns out there, but the prejudice as depicted in it rings true in many Asian families. Not that I’m anything like the story in Krong Kam, but the sentiments are relatable. I’m glad my family didn’t have a problem with me marrying my Thai wife, and my brother marrying a Bidayuh. However, it doesn’t mean there is no judgement from others.
Being a third-culture kid (well, kind of), I don’t live under one roof as my parents and siblings. For the past decade and a half, I have always moved from one place to another, working at different places outside of Borneo where I hail from. As such, the formation of my personal and cultural identities has taken place in the plural form.
People always see me as not being Chinese enough. I married someone outside my own race; I speak broken Mandarin; I am outspoken and straightforward, which is something un-Chinese; I make unconventional decisions, and Chinese food isn’t my favourite food.
But what the heck, my race may be Chinese, but my values and identity are socially constructed depending on where I am. I also choose to associate myself to some values I’m comfortable with, while selectively ignoring others.
I cannot be what others want me to be, jut like Achai cannot be what his mother wants him to be.
As long as the ego and stubbornness is there, just like in Krong Kam, the fight and conflicts between Yoi and Renu will continue to rage on. Like the title “Cage of Karma” suggests, everything happens for a reason, so let the law of karma takes its own course as we do our very best in life. In life people always focus on perfections, but this Thai lakorn teaches us to embrace flaws.