Thai drama set in an Ekudom University, centred on a young woman who is taken advantage of when at her most vulnerable. Thirteen episodes long; this review is based on the first four.
On the surface, The Judgement is a teen-oriented soap opera. It is set in the university of a modern city, a university which takes pride in standards and tradition. Yet like any other university, Ekudom is populated with young adults: they are feeling their way into the world, into adulthood, into relationships; all against a backdrop of constant competition, social media and unexplored boundaries. Teen-oriented it may be, but The Judgement is maturely written.
The main character is Lookkaew (Rapatrud Jiravechsoontorkul), an attractive, though fairly sheltered young woman. She lives with her father and stepmother, and with a shrine to her deceased mother in the hallway. Lookkaew has a wealthy boyfriend, Aud (Thanabordee Jaiyen), though hasn’t taken him very seriously when the series starts. The first episode introduces Lookkaew, her friends and her family, and throws that family into crisis. She goes to a party with Aud, who says it will do her good… But she wakes the next day realising he had a selfish agenda; not only that, but indiscrete pictures of her had appeared overnight online.
The following episodes focus on the consequences of that incident; especially her shame, and her fellow students’ judgement of her. Nobody knows Lookkaew was taken advantage of; even she herself is unable to see it as rape until several days pass, as the photos cause her new reputation to form. This journey towards understanding the wrongness of what was done to her is fascinating, and very neatly written as she is obliged to grow up and put aside innocence with no warning.
The Judgement is full of contrasts, which will – hopefully – give young viewers pause for thought. Contrast between traditional values everyone in the school is expected to uphold and the modern virtual environment of social media, videos and webcam stripping. Contrasts between wealthy and working-class families: do they have the same responsibilities. And contrast between inexperienced and worldly young women: sexual assault, for example, hurts no matter who experiences it, but there is a range of different ways one can react.
The biggest contrast, of course, is between the men and women in the student body. I know little of Thai society beyond what a couple of films have shown me, but what I see in The Judgement is that boys and girls are raised very traditionally, but into a modern world which is not always a comfortable fit for tradition. A key feature of this upbringing is spelt out by Som (Nara Thepnupa), the student stripper: “when a girl sleeps with someone, she belongs to him.” Equality cannot be easy in this world, and Lookkaew struggles with what is clearly a misogynistic world, trying to find her way out of victimhood.
The plot is very interesting indeed, and much more complex than it first appeared. I don’t know where the main story arc will go over the remainder of the series, but I have a feeling there are more judgements to come, as there is a subplot with a secret gay couple, some of Lookaew’s friends are clearly misunderstood… And then there’s the mystery of who is leaking private pictures to the Internet.
The series is directed by Suttasit Decintaranarak, and a cunning job it is too. We can see right into Lookkaew’s world, and understand what it’s like to live there, even with the naive preconceptions she starts off with. I found it a little shocking that she was more concerned about photos at first than how she had been wronged, but her character is presented in a believable way: reputation must be so important in that environment, and denial made it natural for her to focus her attention in that way too.
The acting, I must warn you, is kind of patchy. But it’s interesting: some of the characters are sketchily drawn at first, and as we get too know them better, and the roles become more demanding, most of the actors meet that challenge well. Apart from the leading lady, the actor who stood out to me was Nontanun Anchuleepradit, who played a rare good guy, Archa. That said, the minor characters are not well played at all; little better than in BBC children’s dramas.
Considering this is a Netflix series for teens, the tone is pitched about right, I think: there are sex- and rape-related storylines, yet there is minimal nudity. The issues are not glossed over or joked about, but neither is it particularly harrowing. It would be great if the show raises awareness of so-called “toxic culture” in traditional institutions… Whether it does or not, the characters are terrific, and I’m gripped by the story.