Strangers at Midnight
Episode 1 of Moonlight Chicken starts with a news channel reporting Pattaya’s high standard of living. The recession has affected restaurant owners who have raised their prices except for some who understand that customers too can’t afford it like the Hainanese Chicken Rice diner.
It is popular among night-goers for the Moonlight Chicken aka Midnight Chicken Rice dish. The reporter interviews Jim, the owner who serves unlimited portions after midnight to keep his customers happy. After the interview, Jim is seen managing everything from handling cheques which one of the staff members, Li Ming messes up to paying the staff, paying the rent and closing up after everyone leaves.
One night, he wakes up a drunk customer who has passed out. He waits with the mysterious customer till his friend comes to pick him up. They make small talk and the customer wants him to close up and leave. Jim offers to give him a ride to the main street as it is not safe. The customer buys a beer from him while Jim only drinks one beer can as that’s all he can afford.
As they drink, they walk through the street and share mooncakes from a street vendor who mistakes them for a couple. They continue walking as they bump into each other and hug. Jim finally gives him a ride to the main street but sees that he has passed out and his friend is nowhere seen. He takes him home and the man accidentally enters Li Ming’s room and wonders if he is Jim’s son.
Jim takes him to his room and tells him that Li Ming is his nephew. He also adds that he doesn’t have a wife since he is into men. He realises his words and tries to leave but the man stops him. He says he is sober and makes a move. Jim tells him to not complicate things and that it will only be a one-night stand. The man says he is not sure but they end up sleeping together.
The next morning, the man doesn’t leave immediately but starts playing with Jim’s cat, Jimbo. He observes the living room and finds it cute that Jim still watches movies on DVD. They finally reach the main street and Jim curtly leaves. He goes to the market where he meets Gaipa and his mother who sell chicken.
She tells him that prices are going through the roof and offers to let Gaipa help him around for free. Gaipa on the other hand gives Jim free mooncakes as they bought extra for the Moon Festival. While Jim can’t stop thinking about the mysterious man, Gaipa makes heart eyes at him.
As Jim heads to a restaurant, he sees the mysterious man. They share a meal and the man makes fun of his age but then claims he likes older men which has Jim blushing. The man pays and says it’s for Jim’s services last night which has the latter confused before he smiles.
The man heads home and sees a note left by someone. He instead thinks about his night with Jim. At the diner, Jim too can’t stop thinking about him while Leng complains about the price of beer. Jim tells Leng that he needs to deliver food to Senior Sergeant Major Supoch which scares the young boy. He says he owes them lotto money and Jim scolds him for messing with them. Li Ming offers to deliver and Jim is unhappy as he doesn’t have a license.
Li Ming goes anyway and announces his presence to a boy at the house. When he doesn’t look at him or answer, Li Ming touches his hand to give him the delivery, but the boy is shocked and drops a glass bottle which breaks. The boy is annoyed and talks to Li Ming in sign language. Li Ming is flustered and leaves the food and runs away.
The next day, he meets Leng and asks him if the boy, Supoch’s son is deaf. Turns out, Heart, the son went deaf a few years ago because of a disease and since then has stopped going to school. Leng also tells him that Heart isn’t allowed to go anywhere.
At the gym, Wen, the mystery man is busy watching Jim’s interview. His friend, Gong stops by and asks about his night. Gong also says that someone called Alan is asking about him and Wen says he doesn’t need to answer. Wen finally tells Gong that he had a one-night stand and his friend tells him it is acceptable as long as it is just for that one night. He also tells him that he should not show too much affection or bond and make it complicated.
Despite the talk, Wen asks him out to Jim’s diner which he rejects. Wen is about to head home when he changes his mind and drinks by a bridge while looking at the moon. At the diner, while cleaning up, Jim finds Wen’s ID card that he must have dropped.
He and Li Ming are then called to the Supochs where the mom claims that Li Ming was playing with a liquor bottle and dropped it when Heart came in. Li Ming is frustrated that Heart lied and argues with the parents. Jim takes him out and he tells him that it was Heart who was drinking and dropped the bottle. Jim believes him but says there is no way out as Officer Supoch is powerful.
Jim goes back in alone and the parents tell him that they can split the broken bottle’s price. Officer Supoch asks for 7,000 baht and Li Ming enters and offers to pay it off by working for them. As Jim loses Li Ming as part of the diner staff, he puts up an ad for a new waitstaff.
Wen comes running in and asks for a beer. Jim asks why Wen comes to his diner just to drink and he says he wants a friend to drink with. Jim returns his ID and tells him that they should end it. Wen instead offers to work for him. He hires him but sets some rules like no one-night stand.
The Episode Review
For those who love symbolism and analyzing every frame, Moonlight Chicken is perfect. From the theme song to the moon-related names, it foreshadows the love between Jim and Wen aka our mysterious customer. The soothing blue palette of the scenes doesn’t help much in making the viewers go overdrive in their analysis especially when Wen or Jim are present in a scene while the moonlight falls on their faces.
Then we have Li Ming, which means dawn in Chinese, as he will bring light and hope to the life of Heart. We are definitely going to see some enemies-to-lovers trope from them with Li Ming being angry for having to deal with the consequences of Heart’s lying.
The characters are also all well-etched-out grey characters. No one is under the impression that the characters are goody two shoes from Wen running away instead of dealing with his probably loveless relationship with Alan to Jim being afraid of commitment. But it is the way they grow and learn that makes them more than their love story.
You can read our full season review for Moonlight Chicken here!