Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 2021 Thai series ‘1000 Stars’ is like a peaceful retreat versus all the city lights burning up other Bangkok tales on our screens. Directed by Backaof Noppharnach Chaiwimol, the series is about rich brat Tian (played by newcomer Mix Sahaphap Wongratch), whose life changes when a timely heart transplant saves him from the clutches of death.

The first episode starts with the shot of a casino, where college student Tian is gambling with his wealthy friends, two of the other protagonists are introduced in contrasting montages – Torfun a volunteer teacher is writing in her diary while travelling in a bus back to the city, Phupha (Earth Pirapat) the chief forest officer is leading his men in a night attack against intruders near the Thai border. Their worlds are poles apart, but it collides when Torfun tragically dies and her heart finds a home in Tian’s body. Curious to find out who his donor was, Tian learns all about Torfun through her personal diary. He then decides to become a volunteer teacher at the border village of Pha Pun Dao where Torfun taught and vows to live out her wishes. It’s where he meets Phupha and finds himself drawn to the strict but kind officer who is tasked to look after the new volunteer teacher.

Ten episodes long, the rest of the story follows Tian’s struggle to adapt to the frugal life of a volunteer teacher, having to live in a simple hut with no electricity, no network and just the bare minimum. Can the rich young man used to living a luxurious life in the city survive through the volunteer period and find love? Those answers are slowly unraveled in the leisurely paced episodes that capture the essence of the Thai countryside, culture and food. A lot of Tian’s interactions with the village children add an innocence to the story.

‘1000 Stars’ delivers a ‘good old romantic’ story, it’s not something we haven’t seen before, but it’s the charming characters, the cinematography that captures the picturesque and lush Thai countryside, and sweet little romantic tropes that would make most viewers fall in love with the series. It doesn’t have any of the modern toxic complexities of most competing shows in the genre, nor does it exaggerate plot devices to bring in laughs. The core plot of the heart transplant that makes Tian romantically drawn to Phupha, just like Torfun, reminded me of the 2004 Bollywood film “Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha”, which has a similar story – A dying Pari donates her heart to Dhani, and when Dhani crosses path with Pari’s husband Risabh, she finds herself instantly attracted to him. Although that’s where any similarity ends. While “Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha” miserably bombed at the box office due to a weak script and weaker performances, ‘1000 Stars” shines due to the lead actors, their crackling chemistry and smaller non-romantic sub-plots. The lead pair make even tried and tested tropes look good. The series also has the classic “class difference” that makes a romance between Tian and Phupha seem difficult.

Debutant Mix Sahaphah Wongratch as lead actor Tian is the absolute life of the show, he looks the part of an arrogant but gorgeous looking youngster, who transforms into a kinder, hard-working teacher. He captured the imagination of international watchers, with publications comparing his look to that of K-pop icon Jin from BTS, who is also known as “world-wide handsome”. Earth Pirapat as the stern yet caring officer Phupha delivers a nuanced performance. In the support cast, while the child actors weren’t very convincing in their parts, the older support cast act as pillar of strengths. Nammon Krittanai as Doctor Nam was one of the most likable characters, he nudges his friends to be more straight-forward about their feelings and is always giving good advice. White Nawat who plays Tian’s best-friend Tul had very few scenes, but whenever he does appear, it’s easy to see why the two are close – he is fun, easy-going and is supportive of his friend.

One of the other strong points of this series is the background score, it is riveting, with a lot of traditional Thai sounds that give the story an old school charm. Some sub-plots did feel a little dragged and could’ve been shorter, like the ones where Tian is trying to win over the village kids or the ‘villagers versus local goons’ story. The child actors could’ve benefited from some more acting workshops, because they have a lot of scenes and it feels like they were forced to participate in a school play. With a very solid support cast (most of the side characters have played main roles in other series), perhaps the team did not have the budget to have more experienced child actors.

But all the little flaws are made up by the season finale, episode 10 was poignant, touching and heart-warming. Like Tian’s exceptional growth as a person due to his trials and tribulations of living in a secluded rural village, the climax was a befitting culmination to Phupha’s and Tian’s tale. Their love is patient, unselfish, giving and mature; it’s not without complications, but is devoid of the dramatic trivialities of modern love.

Director Backaof Noppharnach Chaiwimol delvers a wholesome series that one can watch with the entire family. It’s definitely setting a new benchmark for Thai dramas. It’s a 8.5/10 from me.

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