the silver linings of li ming; a short essay on moonlight chicken

michiko
5 min readOct 7, 2023

Warning: (might) contain spoilers for GMMTV’s Moonlight Chicken 2023 series!

excerpts from the series, a plate of chicken rice, image from GMMTV Youtube

There is something comforting and tender about a plate of chicken rice. Growing up in a Chinese-Indonesian household, chicken rice for me, is a hearty dish. The ingredients are very simple. Fragrant rice, with a side of chicken (which could be roasted or steamed), a complimentary soy sauce with ginger, soup, and sometimes a sour-tasting chili sauce. But, because of how plain-looking it is, we sometimes forget the hours and labor that it took to steam, roast, and season the chicken.

The Moonlight Chicken series (2023) by GMMTV is a Thai series that encapsulates the feeling of when we take the first spoonful of chicken rice after a long day. It fills us with nostalgia, melancholia, and warmth, but also, it does not forget the hours that it took to prep and cook the meal. The series lets us take a peek at this simple diner that sells chicken rice until midnight, the utmost depiction of a contemporary working class, and as the full moon shines bright, the customers can eat as many plates as they want until they are full of warmth. Offers a unique varied point of view of the different characters and how they all, one way or another, got entangled and navigated their complex way to the chicken rice diner and the owner, Uncle Jim (played by Earth Pirapat).

One of the characters that stands out to me the most is named Li Ming (played by Fourth Nattawat), who is Uncle Jim’s nephew. He helps out in the diner, mainly as a waiter or doing chicken rice deliveries for his uncle. The character is depicted as this stereotypical rebellious last-year in high school teenager, who often does not listen to Uncle Jim. He is someone who dive first, think later kind of guy, and is uncertain about his future.

Li Ming, the embodiment of teenage rage and misery, he is the in-between, the enigma, the somber, he is the time when one is waiting for the horizon to show the dusk, hues of yellow, orange and purple all together. As the audience watched the episodes, more sides of Li Ming came out and unfolded the intricateness of becoming.

excerpts from the series, a portrait of Li Ming played by Fourth Nattawat, image from GMMTV Youtube

Becoming what you may ask? Becoming in the sense that along the way, we see how Li Ming, slowly but surely learns how to feel and let himself sense his surroundings. The way he is unassumingly mending and stitching the wreckages to become his authentic self, the beauty, excitement, and harmlessness in the feeling of not knowing yet. He let himself feel all of them. The intimate way he navigates the ambiguity of the world who is subjected to the self and only the self.

In one of the episodes that was very engraved to my brain, he was asked by Uncle Jim if he (Li Ming) loves his mother who has not seen or visited him for the past five, six years. To this Li Ming vulnerably replied “Love can’t be forced right? Just because she gave birth to me, must I love her back?”

excerpts from the series, Li Ming’s dialogue with Uncle Jim, images from GMMTV Youtube

Filial piety is something that is quite important and a big responsibility, especially in the Asian household. But there is one thing that we rarely ever talk about, what about the other way around? It is a valid question to throw to the audience. There is this sense of genuineness and desperation, he really did want to know if he must or has the ability to love the one person who was never there. With this Li Ming and the audience, learn that the complicatedness of love, is actually a spectrum. Love does not have a fixed image, I can choose not to love you just because.. and that is enough.

The puzzling diverse sides of Li Ming resonates with all of us, hell, maybe we were all once a Li Ming. Wandering around in this wacky worldly landscape with no aim and suddenly life chucks you a bow and arrow, asking you to hit the bull’s eye. The real vivid and pictorial of the angst. The concept and the demand to always be and act like an independent adult, even though the questions always linger silently, leaving a sour taste in your tongue; what makes an adult, AN adult? Is it manifested in the way you present yourself? or is it as simple as the ability to drink a can of beer legally?

excerpts from the series, Li Ming’s dialogue with Uncle Jim, images from GMMTV Youtube

Li Ming stands tall, he is unapologetically himself, full of determination that is always misunderstood as aggression, again and again and again — the contrast of perpetually forcing him to be an adult, while simultaneously belittling and dismissing him. We cry for you Li Ming, deep down we feel sorry for him, but what is a pity if it is just to have a moment of absolve?

He wears his heart on his sleeve, fleeting moments of adolescence. He never talked about it, he never dared to say one word about his dream, never dared to open his mouth, and it is not because he is ashamed of it. Maybe it is because no one is actually listening to him, maybe all this time he has been screaming on the top of his lungs and nobody is willing to lend their ears for him.

And here comes Heart… tenderly entering Li Ming’s life.. organically, by chance, by fate. Being deaf does not stop Heart from listening and understanding Li Ming’s language. They share such a pristine bond, the warm turmoil of being young and trying to navigate life, the great discovery and beyond is both exciting and terrifying. With Heart, to Li Ming, is easy, the taste of familiarness that Li Ming had been craving all this time. Together they accept and figure out things together. Li Ming, the dusk, finally met his match, even if it is just for a while, a phase, Heart the moon.

excerpts from the series, Heart communicating to Li Ming through notes, images from GMMTV Youtube

And after all of that, the ebbs and flows of youth, Li Ming still can make peace with his surroundings, finding his voice at his own time and pace. And just like the presentation of the dish, The Moonlight Chicken series (2023) is a complex cinematic gesture and texture disguised as simplicity itself.

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michiko
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multidisciplinary artist… baker… lifelong student :>