Thailand’s gay-romance TV dramas help revive flagging tourism industry

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7/30/22

There is a table in Soontaree Thiprat’s Phuket cafe that is always fully booked. Most of her customers at the Dibuk restaurant want to sit in the corner, at the spot with the red tablecloth and purple flower. It is the table where the male student characters Teh and Oh-aew, played by the actors Putthipong “Billkin” Assaratanakul and Krit “PP” Amnuaydechkorn, would sit together and flirt in I Told Sunset About You and its sequel, I Promised You the Moon, a romantic Thai series that has proved hugely popular in its home country and abroad. Devoted fans of the show, who have flocked not only from across Thailand but also from Japan, Korea and Vietnam, pose for photos as they wait to dine in Billkin and PP’s hangout. “They scream so much that I would like to call an ambulance,” said Soontaree. I Told Sunset About You 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 a large following across Asia. Already, 17 Thai BL series have been released this year, while 43 were released in 2020 and 2021, according to the fan website Blwatcher.com. The romcom drama series 2gether, one of the BL genre’s biggest hits, surpassed 100m views on the streaming platform Line TV just months after its release. As Thailand tries to rebuild its travel industry, the country’s tourism authority has sought to capitalise on their popularity, hosting “Thai BL” booths at a recent marketing event in Osaka, Japan, where the dramas are especially popular, and running a Japanese-language Twitter account profiling locations featured in famous scenes. Private firms have also responded to the trend. Japanese company HIS recently ran online tours of locations used in the filming of 2gether, while some Thai language teachers have also begun offering lessons that specialise in the slang used in BL dramas. Monruethai Harada, a Thai language teacher at Jaya & 3S Groups in Tokyo, said she has seen a 20-30% increase in students wanting to learn Thai after BL dramas became popular in 2020. Most of them are women aged about 30, though one recent student was 75 years old. “She really loves to watch the boys’ love dramas. She said it’s the most exciting and thrilling ever,” said Monruethai.

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