Thai actor and heartthrob on new film, the rise of Thai cinema – and why he’s open to learning from cats and dogs
The star of almost half the Thai films released in Hong Kong in recent years, actor Sunny Suwanmethanont talks to the Post about new film Brother of the Year, the growing popularity of Thai cinema and his evolution as an actor
If you have watched a Thai movie in a cinema in Hong Kong in the past few years, chances are that you have come across Sunny Suwanmethanont.
The 37-year-old actor has fronted four films released in Hong Kong in as many years: two romantic comedies – I Fine… Thank You… Love You and Mr. Hurt – genre-blender Heart Attack and his latest, Brother of the Year.
Released early last month in Thailand to huge commercial acclaim, sibling-rivalry comedy Brother of the Year has surpassed the total domestic box-office gross of last year’s crowd-pleasing high-school caper Bad Genius – incidentally produced by the same studio, GDH – after only one week in cinemas.
In the film, Sunny plays Chut, an advertising executive who behaves like a spoiled kid whenever he is in the Bangkok home he shares with younger sister Jane (Urassaya Sperbund). When she starts working for a Japanese company and dating Chut’s client Moji (Nichkhun Buck Horvejkul from K-pop band 2PM), the siblings’ relationship grows so hostile that it threatens to break them apart.
Sunny was in Hong Kong last week with the film’s director Witthaya Thongyooyong and actress Manasaporn Chanchalerm to attend the Hong Kong premiere of Brother of the Year. He sat down with the Post to reflect on the rising popularity of Thai cinema – and himself.
Sunny, you play a truly terrible brother in the new film. What did you do to prepare for the character?
The preparation I needed for this role is actually minimal. As my character is such an unruly guy, I can pretty much behave in any way I like in front of the cameras.
Do you have any siblings in real life?
The story does remind me of my own family – my brother and sister are both considerably older than me. It reminds me of how happy I am to have them. If I didn’t have my siblings, I might not have understood this character as much as I do, or be able to convey his feelings.
What was the most memorable experience from making this film?
It has to be the scene in which I was slapped on the face by my co-star Manasaporn Chanchalerm. She was asked to hit me hard, but if it wasn’t a good take she had to do it again. In the end, both sides of my face were slapped more than a dozen times. It’s memorable because of the pain. Every take was actually painful, but somehow on camera it didn’t always look like she was slapping me for real.
Your character in the film is an advertising executive, while you also played a freelance graphics designer in your recent film Heart Attack . Is advertising such a prominent profession in Thailand?
It’s quite a common profession – but I’d rather people focus their attention on Thai cinema. In the case of Brother of the Year, it is one of the very few films around that centres on a brother-sister relationship. I hope the film can reach more people. It’d be a pity if it doesn’t.
To a foreign audience who hasn’t watched a lot of non-horror Thai films, the recent wave of eclectic exports such as Heart Attack, Bad Genius and Brother of the Year appears to show that Thai filmmakers are actively branching out. What’s your take on this?
I see it as a good opportunity for us. Why do you have the impression before that Thai horror films were more prevalent? Perhaps that’s because Hongkongers don’t share the same superstitions with Thai people, or maybe because these traditions are more prevalent in Thailand. That’s why people tended to remember the horror films when they looked at Thai cinema.
But now, especially after the success of Bad Genius, people have begun to look out for different types of movies that Thai cinema has to offer. I think it’s a good opportunity, because as soon as they fall in love with one Thai movie, they’ll go on to learn about other types of films being made in Thailand as well.
There have only been a handful of Thai films released in Hong Kong in the past few years. What really caught my attention, though, is the fact that you’re the lead actor in about half of them. What do you make of your international appeal?
I actually have no idea how many of my films have been released here, and I didn’t realise that I was in a lot of the Thai films that you’re getting to see! I guess that has nothing to do with having me as the lead, but rather just that these films happen to be good films. I’m not going to take credit for that … Then again, I’m sure that every film I star in is excellent. [Laughs]
Well, I certainly have the impression that you’re one of the most popular Thai actors around.
On the one hand, I don’t especially feel that I’m a top actor or even a popular actor. But on the other hand, acting is indeed my only profession. If I can’t do this properly, or if I’m not good enough at it, I wouldn’t know what else I could do. It’s too late for me to try something else; I’m too old for that.
Which would you consider to be your most representative films to date?
Can we talk about characters instead? Because every film is different.
So which of the characters that you’ve played would you describe as your favourite?
It has to be my part in True Love Next Door (2008-14), a television drama series that I did for many years. It’s a very funny soap opera. I did that because I decided to try everything. I played that role for so many years that it feels like the character has always stayed with me.
You started winning acting prizes with your very first feature film, Dear Dakanda (2005). Looking back, how do you think you’ve evolved as an actor since then?
I’ve been evolving all along, so it wouldn’t be possible for me to play that character again now. At that time, there were a lot of things about acting that I didn’t know.
Are there any actors that you have especially tried to learn from?
I’m open to learning from and treating everyone as my master, whether it’s an actor from Hong Kong or Thailand, or a kid, or even a cat or a dog. That’s because I believe everyone has a certain special quality, and I’d like to learn this from every one of them.
Brother of the Year opens on June 21
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