You can't escape Nadech Kugimiya. The guy's everywhere, from larger-than-life expressway billboards, magazine racks, television commercials, prime-time soaps to fried banana bags made out of old newspapers, Nadech's perfectly chiselled, flawless face is forever beaming at you like the sun and the moon combined.
We'll definitely see a lot more of him now that Nadech's long-awaited first movie, Khu Kam, is out tomorrow. The timeless, perennial favourite tale of cross-national love amidst war sees Nadech, 21, in the famous role of Kobori, the Japanese engineering officer who falls hopelessly in love with a stubborn, nationalistic Thai beauty, Angsumalin, played by Oranate "Richy" D. Caballes. The raging World War II serves as a backdrop.
In person, the hard-working heart-throb is as pretty as he is on screens, billboards or print ads. Of Thai-Austrian heritage, Nadech's fine complexion and long lashes and subtly light features give no clear indication of what nationalities he belongs to. This is further confused because he holds the last name of his Japanese adoptive father, who, upon marrying his aunt, decided to take Nadech in as his own. No wonder there were misunderstandings over his supposed Japanese linage in the beginning of his career. Take a look at his light skin, doe eyes and thick brows; it wouldn't be too far off the mark to remark that Nadech is a walking embodiment of Japanese manga antagonists.
Nadech also seems down to Earth, appearing relaxed and enthusiastic, which is how he's often described by those in the industry. Unfazed by one interview after another, Nadech takes each question like a happy child while sipping on his bottled green tea, wearing some sort of a boy scout outfit _ a choice we still haven't really gotten to the bottom of.
After serious forays into TV, Khu Kam is the first movie venture for Nadech. Credited as one of the few handsome leading men who can actually act, it's a wonder why he waited so long to enter celluloid world.
"Nobody asked me to be in a movie before!" he said, chuckling. "Why? I really don't know."
But when the role of Kobori came knocking, Nadech knew he had to take the opportunity even though his fear in tackling such an iconic role was overwhelming. This is, after all, Khu Kam, an adaptation of the classic novel penned by national artist Tommayanti. The story of young love, loss, politics, war and cultural clashes is the perfect mixture of melodrama, romance and tragedy. Khu Kam has been made into movies and TV series at least 10 times. By the end of this year alone, we will have seen three versions of Khu Kam _ on the big screen, as a TV series and a theatre play. With Thongchai "Bird" McIntyre as the most prominent star to play Kobori in the past two decades, and other revered actors such as Nirut Sirichanya, Sornram Theppitak and Warut Worrathum having played the part with varying success, it's understandable that Nadech may have developed cold feet.
"To be honest with you, Khu Kam is intimidating. It's a classic, and it's so loved. But also it's Khu Kam, and I just couldn't turn it down," he said.
Nadech in a scene from Khu Kam.
"Kittikorn Leosirikul, the director, explained to me that it would be a reinterpretation. The focus would be on young love, and how young people negotiate the labyrinth of love in a complicated and profound way. It wouldn't be about war or politics. I haven't seen other versions of Khu Kam as well. I remember Pee Bird playing the role, but vaguely. But I knew the story well. Kittikorn also asked me not to read the novel beforehand. He suggested that I stick with the script, and we should develop our own Kobori together."
Tomorrow will be our turn to see what kind of Kobori Nadech has delivered. Regardless of the outcome, it has been a meteoric rise for the self-proclaimed country boy who enjoyed an idyllic life in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen. And it has taken only four years _ counting from his first major TV drama role.
''I was more into music as a kid,'' he said. ''I would always sing with a side pillow as a microphone. I love music still, even though I don't really know how to play anything very well. I can do bits and pieces, but I collect a lot of musical instruments, and when I have spare time, I would invite friends to come over, and we jam. I listen to a lot of music. Disco is my favourite.''
Nadech never wanted to be in the spotlight, and was reluctant at first when discovered by the famous scout Akekachai Sriwichit at 16 years old. Nadech recalled thinking that the only chance he would get to enter showbiz was to be behind the camera.
''In high school, there was a project for a history class. We didn't want to do a paper report, so we asked our teacher to submit a documentary instead. I loved it so much that I told my mother that I wanted to study filmmaking in university,'' he said.
That, he is doing. Nadech is now a fourth-year student at Rangsit University, majoring in film production. The start of his university life coincided with his showbiz one. Surprisingly, Nadech is adamant about finishing school, even though stars of his calibre often put school on hold until after their careers peak, or give up the academic life altogether.
''It's my duty. It's something people my age must do. Showbiz is more like a secondary priority, an extracurricular activity per se. I will finish school, and then I can devote myself to my career fully. Also, I think what I'm studying in school will help me greatly in behind the scene careers that I hope to be doing in the future.''
He adds that he's doing just fine with help from friends and classmates.
After modelling for a short while, Nadech's major breakthrough came with the TV series Ngao Rak Luang Jai (The Shadow Of Love) in 2009. The following year saw Nadech appearing in the two most popular TV series, Duang Jai Akkanee (The Heart Of Fire) and Game Rai, Game Rak (The Game Of Love), sealing his status as Thailand's top star in recent years.
''Initially, I didn't have to adapt so much, but as more people began to recognise me, I felt that I needed to change a bit,'' he said of his fame. ''I told myself I couldn't just act silly the way I used to when I lived in Khon Kaen. It's not that much of a change, though. I am still very much myself. I grew up automatically, and I've learned a lot.''
For the role of Kobori, Nadech attended acting workshops, as well as special sessions with a Japanese acting coach who guided him on becoming a ''true'' Japanese gentleman and speaking with accented Thai. He said growing up with a Japanese father didn't help as he had become as Thai as his friends' fathers, and he was never taught Japanese.
''Acting is the toughest part. I wish I had more time to do workshops. I believe that the movie is already great, but I might be able to better myself if I had more time. I was most worried about the physical aspect like the gaits, the gestures or the way Japanese men carried themselves,'' he said.
When asked if he could fully identify with Kobori, Nadech took a minute to ponder.
''One thing that I have in common with Kobori is youth. I think we are both stubborn and cheeky. I am quite stubborn so I can relate to how focused and relentless Kobori is in his love for Angsumalin,'' he said. ''For Kobori, this love is intangible. He's almost delusional. He's determined to the point of being overly stubborn. There are a lot of misunderstandings. He's very sensitive also. Surely, his love is reciprocated, but he is only certain at the bitter end. Sometimes I wonder why it takes so long for Angsumalin to admit and display her true feelings. But Kobori really sticks it out until his end.
''Would I be the same? Hmmm. If I really am in love with someone, I think I would do the same. I would stick it out until the end too.''