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Amazing Muay Thai Soap Opera - Likay Matsang ลิเกหมัดสั่ง


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When I say this is an amazing Thai soap opera there has to be a qualifier. Thai soaps are notoriously unwatchable, at least for me. Full of huge Thai stereotypes, silliness, sound effects, and at times offensive forced sex (rape) scenes, big rambling drama, they really push the patience meter, even when in Thailand there may be nothing else on TV. We don't watch them. But for us we kept running into this one which seems brand new, and were shocked to see Muay Thai being portrayed as a central theme in the soap. When we found it on we watched for few minutes, if only as a kind of observer, to see what stereotypes would surround pop culture, soap portrayals of Muay Thai. It wasn't until we sat down and binge watched 3 episodes that we found all kinds of pleasure (and information) in this innocent soap. We actually found ourselves laughing, repeatedly, at the portrayals (that were meant to be funny), and the surrounding story lines, as best we could follow. The plots are not complicated, and even though I had the aid of Sylvie jumping in, I think I could follow them despite having almost zero Thai myself. Whether it would be worth it for you, I don't know. Our 3 years here may have softened my resistance to some of these portrayals, and made watching things in a language I don't understand enjoyable, but I found it both hilarious (slapstick style, and I'm not a fan of slapstick) and oddly illuminating.
 
As far as I can tell the story follows Phet, a young man who is the lead in his family's Likay troop. Likay (lee-kay) is a traditional form of Thai Folk Theater (this Bangkok post article fills in some details). Phet, through circuitous events finds himself wanting to join a Muay Thai camp (all of this in Isaan?) which is run by several women. The most prominent female is Pim, who also seems to be the star fighter of the camp. The title of the soap is Likay - Matsang (Folk Theater - Directed Fist), and it balances a tension between Phet's traditional dance theater troop - and its attendant (effeminate) almost boy-band masculinity - and the Kai Muay which is run by women. The camp emphasizes female fighters to a surprising degree. The stereotypes abound, and much is being said about Thai masculinity, of course in endless silliness. Also, the portrayals of the camp, with the men all training in clean shirts and discordantly in white sneakers (is it transgressively low class to see men hitting bags topless?), create a kind of Muay Thai fantasy space, that is half a cleaned-up Bangkok upper middle class, and half low-class and provincial mash up.
 
Muay Thai figureheads like Khaosai Galaxy and Somrak appear in it, and the adventures are off the charts mad cap at times - the razing camp shower scene, leading to a near naked run through the camp at night has to be seen to be laughed at. But if you are someone who loves all things Muay Thai, and loves all things Thailand, I can't help but feel that at the very least it deserves peak. One of the more interesting things is the lead character of Pim, who could have stepped out of the Sud Suay Muay Thai campaign, aimed at making Muay Thai much more amenable to the middle class, and in particular middle class Thai young women. Her position and experience as fighter (and she fights two ridiculous fights in the first few episodes against a giant opponent named "moo daeng") gives her a strength, aggression and confidence in social situations which does not seem to have to be balanced by overly "feminine" qualities. Not knowing Thai to check her language, she seems like a woman who is just empowered by her fighting and Muay Thai, which makes for an interesting case of public image making.
 
I'm not completely sure what the juxtaposition of Likay and Muay Thai is supposed to serve, but I am sure that it has resonance. Muay Thai and traditional dance performance (like lakhon) actually hold a very long history together, going back hundreds of years, each performed for royalty in celebrations. And now both Muay Thai and Likay performances can be found in the same festivals that countlessly dot the countryside and serve as the bed of Muay Thai in Thailand. And it isn't just in Thailand. Hong Kong Kung Fu cinema (1970s) was born out of the acrobatics and storytelling of Chinese Peking Opera as well. Fighting and dance go together, as any Ram Muay will tell you.
 
You can find all the updated Likay Matsang episodes here streaming.
 
Likay-Matsang-Muay-Thai-Soap-Opera-episo

 

 
This is the first part of the first episode. If you can get through this you'll be more entertained later.
 

Muay Thai - Soap Opera in Thailand - Channel - Likay Matsang.PNG

Likay Matsang - Muay Thai Soap Opera episode list.PNG

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Okay, no... I love this soap. Consuming it from a standpoint of someone who has been trying to figure out positions, status, stereotypes, depictions and attitudes about class and gender and Thai-ness... this soap is simply packed full of fascination for me. The swapped gender stereotypes - but not too far outside of norms - of the male actor (Phet), who they mockingly have nicknamed Likay and who simply cannot help himself as he over-performs everything he does with song included, and the sometimes sadistic and a little gruff but beautiful female nakmuay who beats up gangsters and abuses the new guy for being soft. But then the women at the camp, featured so heavily with the male nakmuay kind of being background noise (and ridiculously soft-bodied and white-skinned) end up being both his torturers and taking pity on the male protagonist. If this were an all-male camp, Likay would actually just be hazed and doing grunt work all day; with women around he's given a little bit of sympathy. Then, too, he teases Pim for being so cruel - she's the star nakmuay of the camp, it seems. Certainly tougher than the boys. Twice when she's ordering Likay around (not letting him drink sweet tea and waking him up to run) he asks her "are you a nakmuay or a nakleng (fighter or gangster)?", and "are you a woman or a sadist?" clearly calling in to question and therefore regulating Pim's "femininity" while Likay's masculinity (by his inability to hang with the nakmuay) is pretty much the ongoing joke of the show.

 

The owner of the gym has a daughter who trains sometimes and looks bored the rest of the time, periodically meeting in secret in a cemetery to make plans to escape to Bangkok - her big dream is to NOT be a nakmuay. She's a reflection of Likay, too, who was born into the troupe of actors and now wants to be a nakmuay, thereby snubbing his own father's legacy. It's deep, man!  I also get a particular joy out of Pim's constant upstaging of Likay in manliness.  Her Muay Thai is terrible, but it's depicted as fierce and so is she. He kind of can't do anything and always wants to turn everything into a soft song and dance, whereas Pim is overpowering him with kicks, outrunning him, showing him how he's wrapping his hands wrong, etc. He's teased endlessly in this depiction of being outdone by a woman, which I'm watching with absolute fascination because as the only woman at Petchrungruang but who has cut out a place for herself as an accepted fighter (which Pim is in this show), the boys are always being teased for losing to "a girl" (me), but also with the understanding that me and Pim are both very fierce. Pim and I are not similar, but in a way we are. It's interesting to see this depicted on screen because it's like a Cliff's Notes to idealized and theatricized Thai attitudes that relate pretty closely to what I'm experiencing. But with more hilarity and less crying. Definitely less crying so far.

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