A Chinese fan of Thai actor Mike D'Angelo Photo: Li Hao/GT
Liu Mengting, 24, a white-collar worker at an international company in Beijing, loves to watch TV shows and movies. She used to watch US and South Korean TV shows most, but recently, she has fallen in love with Thai shows.
"One of my friends recommended the Thai movie Bad Genius (2017) to me, and I was amazed," she said. "I never thought cheating on a test could be represented as a thrilling spy story."
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) in Bangkok Photo: Courtesy of Sa-ngopkarn Moungthong
The movie opened in China on October 13, 2017 and made over 230 million yuan ($36.8 million) at the box office. Bad Genius also got a score of 8.2 out of 10 on China movie review website douban.com, triggering heated discussions on Thai movies and TV shows and the culture of the country.
Sa-ngopkarn Moungthong, the First Secretary at the Thai Embassy in Beijing, said Thailand is trending in China due to increased cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Nowadays, many Chinese TV stations and websites have Thai TV shows, and many Thai stars visit China to promote their new projects. Some have even acted in Chinese TV shows and movies.
A beach in Trang Province in Thailand Photo: Courtesy of Sa-ngopkarn Moungthong
"Now more and more Chinese are gaining a better understanding of Thailand, and they are more willing to know more about the culture and food. They also want to visit and witness Thailand for themselves," Moungthong said.
Southeastern pop culture
Liu is currently watching Thai shows, Fake Love (2018) and What the Duck the Series (2018). Both are idol dramas, and the latter is a boys' love show.
She loves Thai idol dramas and soap operas that have more "intense dramatic conflicts and beautiful actors and actresses than Chinese dramas."
Liu's favorite Thai TV show is Princess Hours (2017), which is a remake of the South Korean show of the same name. The show was simulcasted on Tencent's video website v.qq.com when it aired in Thailand in April 2017. It amassed over 100 million views in 10 days and has since been played over 400 million times.
The Ruci Yinghua Film Company cooperated with Tencent to bring Princess Hours to China. According to an employee, the company chose the show following years of research on website video viewers in China to find out their tastes.
"Thai idol dramas have a similar style to those from South Korea and Taiwan, so we can estimate that Thai idol dramas will attract many fans in China," she said, adding that Thai idol dramas are more popular among young Chinese aged 18 to 30 and are especially suitable for video websites.
"China and Thailand are both developing countries in Asia and have a similar cultural background and value system, so Thai shows can be accepted more by Chinese than other foreign countries," she said.
Moungthong thinks Chinese and Thais have similar tastes in TV shows and movies and sees it as one of the reasons Thai culture is increasingly popular in China.
"Most Thai TV shows are comedies, and they are more based on life unlike many Japanese and South Korean shows," he said.
"They are more in line with both Thai and Chinese young people's lifestyles. Also, many Thai stars come to China to shoot TV shows and movies, including Mike D'Angelo and Mario Muarer."
Liu agreed. "If the language in the movie did not remind me that it is a Thai movie, I would definitely think it is a Chinese story," she said. "The similarity of both sides' young people resonates with Chinese viewers."
Thai actor Panuwat Kerdthongtavee is 19-year-old university student Elsa Li's idol. She fell in love with the actor after watching the Thai TV show Two Moons (2017) and began to follow him online and attend his events in China. On August 16, 2017, she and 20 Chinese fans of the show went to Chengdu in Sichuan Province to participate in a fan meet and greet with the Two Moon's crew.
"I think Thai stars are the most available and easygoing stars I have ever been a fan of," Li said.
"The most expensive ticket for the activity was about 1,000 yuan, and if you bought the VIP ticket, you could go on stage at least twice to interact with your idols. You could give them presents, shake their hands and take selfies with them."
Although Li only bought a regular ticket for about 300 yuan, she still got a chance to go on stage to shake hands with Kerdthongtavee, which was very exciting.
"They have been to Taipei, Chengdu, Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, and Nanjing in Jiangsu Province to meet fans and promote the TV show because China is their most important target market," Li said. "Many Thai TV shows do it, not just Two Moons."
Moungthong said due to the Belt and Road initiative, people-to-people contact and connectivity between Thailand and China is increasing, which has led the Thai cultural industry to pursue a broader market and more cooperation with China.
According to a report by Tencent's entertainment news portal ent.qq.com, many TV shows have been jointly shot by Chinese and Thai companies, including Custom Love (2017), What the Duck the Series (2018) and the movie Fear Me Not (2016).
Moungthong said both the initiative and the Thai government's special efforts to promote their culture in China are helpful in drawing Chinese attention to Thai culture and the country itself.
"I never hear about any other royal family in the world who can speak Chinese, but Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn can," he said proudly.
Tourism market trend
The influence of pop culture in China has also improved the people's willingness to learn about Thailand. Chinese movies like Operation Meikong (2016) and Extraordinary Mission (2015) were filmed in Thailand, and the beautiful landscape stimulated people's desire to visit the country.
According to data released by the Association of Thai Travel Agents recently, 9.8 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2017, and more than 400,000 Chinese will go there during Spring Festival, which is a 10 percent increase compared with the same period in 2017.
Zhou Lei, 32, went to Thailand with her husband for Spring Festival in 2017. She had wanted to visit the country ever since she watched the Chinese movie Lost in Thailand (2013).
She said what impressed her most about Thailand was the cheap and delicious food.
"I think the Chinese and Thais are very similar. We are two countries who think food is very important in people's lives," she said.
"We enjoyed the seafood, and my favorite is tom kha kai (coconut juice boiled chicken). The sweet reminds me of the Southern-style food from my hometown in Fujian Province."
Moungthong describes Thai food as a combination of all tastes. "[Thai food is] spicy, sweet, salty and sour, but neither of the tastes is too extreme. We keep the track in the middle," said Moungthong.
"It is just like our culture, always in the middle and in moderation, which is similar to the traditional thought of Confucianism in China."
Zhou was so taken with Thailand that she signed up her parents and in-laws for a senior citizens' tourism trip to Thailand during the Spring Festival.
"It is a new way for them to spend the holidays and relax, and I heard that the celebration there will be rather great," she said.
A grand Chinese New Year celebration is scheduled in the China Town in Bangkok, and according to Moungthong, it is "the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of China." Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will also attend the celebration.
Li is busy learning Thai. She plans to go to Thailand for a large-scale fan event featuring her idol in two months.
"I think this Southeast Asian country has its unique charm with very beautiful actors, increasingly great movies and TV shows, and great food and landscape," she said. "I think more and more young people will fall in love with the country, not just me."