Ka Badin, which takes place in the era of King Nang Klao, the third reign (after King Rama II). The story sets around the period when England (known as Wilat at the time) enters into a commercial partnership role with Thailand, and this historical fact plays as a backbone to the plot of this drama.
Because Haym is a good looking, well-mannered and bright boy, he is known as “Phor Haym RoopThong” meaning “Phor Haym the Golden”. He has a knack for English and sneaks around to further his skills with an English teacher, however once his father finds out (he who doesn't trust foreigners) decides to send his son to study at the monastery. There, Haym picks up sword wielding skills. Unfortunately, accused of killing an Englishman, he is relegated to being an elephant keeper. He then masters the science of ailing elephants and becomes quite the vet and elephant keeper. Therein he meets Lamduan who is the leading actress of a dance play in Amphawa. He had already met her when they were younger, and this propels them to fall in love. However due to their status differences, as well as interference from another man who wants Lamduan for himself, Haym pursues the military forces so that he can improve his status. With his brilliance and capability, Haym climbs the military rung (so to speak) and also becomes the national pride and bravery of Badin.
Cast & Credits
Kha Badin, being a historical drama, has less of the typical Thai drama tropes (hip, hip, hurray). It's supposedly about a man's fall from grace and his comeback. The protagonist is a nationalistic, loyal "servant of the King" who is willing to put national interests above personal gains. Very noble of him, of course. To me though, this drama is just a love story. If I were to write the synopsis myself, it'll be about a man being wrongly stripped of his ranks and a woman who stood by him, and how their relationship evolved from family (siblings-like) to lovers. It's not because I'm specifically looking out for romance, but I think the drama wasn't as successful in delivering its main theme as opposed to portraying the love between the leads.
Initially, I was really perplexed why they chose two leads who are not Thai-looking at all. I guess there's probably a lot of Thai Chinese/Chinese Thai (?) even back in the days so casting James Ma isn't that much of a stretch, but in spite of my adoration for Matt Peranee I can't fathom why they'd choose someone who won't even look out of place in a US TV series to act in a historical drama. It's also a little weird that Haym is supposed to be older than Lamduan, but she looks more like the elder sister (I guess James Ma just has a baby face since he looked younger than everyone except for teen Lamduan). Disregarding their appearances though, I think they did a decent job acting wise and had unexpected chemistry (especially after their reunion and in the last couple of episodes, so cute). Except... that James Ma always looked more creepy than romantic when speaking his "mushy" lines. He really needs to work on that. Matt Peranee is brilliant as always. I think she was filming a couple of dramas at the same time, so sometimes you could see the lethargy on her face. She did a great job with her character though, even though she may not look the part. I think it must be a testament to her acting that I don't find her jarring in a historical drama at all. On the other hand, Bua (played by Samai Maneerat) is interesting in that I'm not sure if the general unpleasant vibes I got from her character were deliberate or because of her stiffness. In any case, I guess she got the point across.
There are quite a lot of production flaws I spotted while watching the drama. The fighting scenes were especially lackluster. I wonder if it's because I'm used to watching Chinese dramas which tend to hire really famous martial arts directors to choreograph their fight scenes. Part of what contributed to the weak fighting was also the lack of power. They looked like they were just swinging their blades, but not using force. It doesn't help that the swords looked like (poorly-made) paper mache. The "blades" were so blunt that I wouldn't mind if any of the hits landed on me; they won't even leave a scratch. Moreover, there were no blood splatters initially, so the first couple of fighting scenes looked like rehearsals rather than the real thing.
However, the drama was entertaining throughout and funny at times. The plot wasn't very complicated and hence not as convoluted like other Thai dramas. The interactions between the lead characters were also enjoyable to watch. It's a drama I don't have many complaints about, which makes it better than 99% of Thai dramas already lol. I think 8.5 is slightly overrating it, but I don't mind going along with the flow once in a while.
-- Footnotes --
 For those who are interested in watching the drama with English subtitles, I believe a subbing team has recently taken on the project, and episode 1 is available already.