Starting a new series is a bit like stepping into the unknown. Will it be engaging? Will it be entertaining? Will it even be good? One never knows. It’s even more uncertain when the series you’ve chosen to watch is presented in a language you do not fully understand. 

It’s all part of the fun. 

I started on my journey into the world of Thai dramas (called lakorns) when Los Angeles was in the middle of its first lockdown.  Unlike western series, which can span years, the stories presented within a lakorn are self-contained and wrapped up within a single season. Though the rare continuation and spin-off do exist. Most of the dramas I have seen are within the BL (Boys Love) or Y drama genre, which is exactly as it sounds – the love story is centered between two men.  While I have seen a handful of male / female lakorns, they’re not my norm, but then, occasionally, I stumble on something different entirely. 

Such is the case with 180 Degrees of Longitude Passes Between Us

At its core, the series is a love story between men Wang (Pond Ponlawit) and In (Nike Nitidon), it’s so much more. For starters, Wang is freshly twenty while In is in his late thirties. Wang has a jagged relationship with his eccentric (and slightly homophobic) mother Sasiwimol (Mam Kathaleeya) whom In was good friends in college. In also introduced Wang’s parents to one another and (at least with the 4 episodes aired) there is something bubbling just under the surface that seems to suggest that at one point, In was in love with Wang’s father – who passed away before the story of the series begins. So, there are a lot of layers that one must peel away to get to the heart of this series. 

Wang (Pond Ponlawit) and In (Nike Nitidon)

It’s an intriguing and well-written world that’s both breathtaking and slightly nerve-racking in the fact that, when you consider the emotions swirling just behind the eyes of the three main characters could easily explode and send everything I’ve come to love up in flames with a single sentence. So, as I watch, I am waiting with bated breath, especially in the scenes that are focused on just the characters of In and Sasiwimol.

All of that is thanks to Punnasak Sukee, the man who not only wrote the series but also serves as its director. A professor of Performing Arts and Artistic Director of Bangkok University Theatre Company, he has brought a sense of theatre to this series that I, at least in my limited scope, have yet to see any other series do in such an honest and poignant fashion. “I am interested in Politics,” Sukee says of the nature of the story in 180 Degrees. “As a teacher, I teach my theatre students to be stage activists. My work of art always concerns politics, so I think about how to manifest the idea and my voice as a responsible citizen in my work all the time. I’ve never seen Thailand in a perilous  juncture as today.”

Punnasak Sukee

“My 3 lead characters are representatives of 3 generations involving in the conflicts,” he continues, speaking of the fight for LGBTQ+ Equality. “Of course, Sasiwimol and Wang are obviously on different sides, but people like Inthawut are most of the people I’ve found in my daily life. Moreover, sometimes I see myself as Inthawut for lacking the ability to change something. And that leads to the question of whether authenticity can be changed. I am looking for a landslide in the next election (which seems to be far away and uncertain) to abolish the tyranny, but can we hope for the people like Inthawut to take action?”

Pride poster promo from 180 Degrees

Though a prolific writer, 180 Degrees is Sukee’s first step into the world of television. “I am a playwright. My works are produced on stage. Theoretically, I know that writing for TV and screen is totally different, but I wanted to take a risk by experimenting using the theatrical style of writing for this series,” Sukee advised when I asked him about how he tackled his first television project. “I am very fortunate to have a production team that supports me. They never stop me from doing such a risky and challenging task. Also, my cast and crew are more than willing to take this journey with me, though how difficult it is. As a theatre person, I would very much like to introduce Theatre Arts to Thai people and I do not hesitate to take this opportunity to do so. But when the premier came closer, we were so nervous to think what the audience’s reaction would be. Now it turns out to be something different and new for the Thai audience and they love it. This is beyond my expectation. I am very happy to know that our audience is also happy to try new things.”

Writer to writer, I asked him about his process of development, and what he did to inspire the stories and characters he created. “I go jogging,” he replied. “That’s when I come up with ideas and solutions or even realize that the dialogue that I just wrote wasn’t right. The production team complained that I write slowly, but I think finishing the whole script in less than 2 months is my normal pace when I am really into it.”

“I love writing, but it’s never easy,” he says. “I must see all actions in the scenes and hear my characters converse so clearly before I start writing. That’s why I have only one draft for most of the scenes. There is a revision in some scenes, though, but it doesn’t change the main idea.

Nike Nitidon and Pond Ponlawit behind the scenes

I also wanted to know which of the scenes in the series (as a whole) was his favorite. “My favorite scene is in the last episode,” he replied without giving too much away. “I wrote with tears. My favorite scenes to shoot are those long takes with theatrical styles and blocking, but I am sure my DP wouldn’t agree with me.”

When it came to the actors and preparing for the series, he took a very theatrical approach. “I required a series of workshops and rehearsals, as the dialogue is subtle and always has a double meaning – or more, actors would definitely not be able to just speak it out on-set without rehearsing it.” He approached the actors with the same kind of mentality. “To be honest , I don’t know “stars” in Thailand. Never recognized their faces or who is who. It’s my producer who introduced them to me.” However, he did confess that he was familiar with Kathaleeya, who is the series most veteran actor.

Kathaleeya’s Mam in In’s fabulous living room.

With half the story yet to air, and still so much unsaid, as a fan, I am excited to see where it goes goes. It’s complicated but beautiful and an adventure that is absolutely worth going on. The photos, beautifully shot by Nat Prakobsantisuk were generously provided by Sukee.

180 Degrees of Longitude Passes Between Us is uploaded to the GagaOOLala every Sunday at 12:15 TST.