Photos by JV Rabano
Who the hell is Chanon Santinatornkul? The 24-year-old Thai star is foreign to most, except to the hundreds screaming in SM North Edsa SkyDome. I am at his fan meet, it is Nov. 30, and my ears are dead from the screams. Not just deaf — dead.
Who is the man in the midst of this madness? What makes even grown women fly all the way from Thailand and Taiwan, just to see this man?
Chanon, better known as Nonkul, is most famous for his role in Bad Genius, a much-lauded Thai heist-thriller set in a prestigious local high school. He plays Bank, the supporting Genius, who has been enlisted to help an international exam cheating scheme. His standout acting has earned him an award from the Thailand National Film Association — he won Best Actor in 2018. Not too shabby for a 22-year-old.
Born June 6, 1996, Nonkul’s career started in modeling. When he was in high school, he was spotted on the streets by a style scout. After that, he has appeared in an indie gay romance, a reproductive health campaign guised as a rom com, and some bit roles on TV before landing Bad Genius.
“The similarity and the difference is the same. I am a strict person like Bank,” Nonkul said when asked about how much he identifies as Bank. “But the difference is, I’m not as strict as Bank.”
Is he, or is he not? This shapeshifting ability is his superpower, giving him an addictive mix of mystery and accessibility. He has the good looks of a K-pop star, but the eagerness to please of a matinee idol. He appears shy, not saying more than he needs to, but onstage he is every bit the star, with the just the right amount of winks, finger hearts, and “I love you’s” to the endearing audience. He doesn’t say much with words, but the moment he stepped into his shoot he shifted poses expertly, by the millisecond. Top Actor, Top Model. School is in session, and this guy knows his stuff.
Here’s what I notice about Nonkul: he is a dreamer with drive. He has a YouTube vlog, “Road to 190cm,” which documents his process of trying to increase his height from 170cm to 190cm. In the vlog, he shares: “The higher the goal is, the harder you work for it.” To his fans, he shares the same thing: “Aim for the top — because if you do, your attitude will follow.”
Clearly, it’s working. When I ask Pauline Bobier of CDM Entertainment how many stops he has in his tour, she said, “Oh, this is his only one. Pinili talaga naman siya. This is the first time he’s done a solo fan meet. We thought he would be a good celebrity to bring here since he already has a following, and he can speak English.” During his fan meet, we were all surprised when he sang Iñigo Pascual’s Dahil Sa’Yo in perfect Tagalog.
What’s refreshing is the naked ambition, and I can’t help but wonder what’s lost in translation. Is everything I see sheer calculation? What makes a star? Is it the name, the size of the entourage, the make-up artists fluttering about? Is it the amount fans pay to see you? The signed posters?
Or is it this — the ambition that fuels the drive? The fire that turns a guy from a novice who needs 11 takes, to the Best Actor in Thailand. The determination to learn a song in a foreign language to please fans. The willpower to grow, literally, from 170 cm to 190? It’s borderline delusional, but aren’t all great celebrity stories fantasies that turned into reality? As sure as the sun rises, I know now — stars are born before they can be made.