The British brand looks to Asia for their next ambassador and they found him in Thailand
Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree, Burberry’s new brand ambassador. Photo: Burberry
Burberry has once again found a male face among the many willing Thais to peddle their wares. This time, as brand ambassador. After the unlikely Issan-born Manchester chap Zak Srakaew for their autumn/winter 2020 collection, they’ve now made a more conventional choice—the Bangkok-based actor Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree (วชิรวิชญ์ ชีวอารี)—as the guy to front their campaigns and wear their clothes in public appearances. Unlike Mr Srakaew, Mr Chivaaree—known professionally as Bright—is not pure Thai, or as dark-skinned, or unknown. He is a (preferred) luk khreung (literally ‘half-child’) of Thai, Chinese and American decent, but still unmistakably Thai, a man of adequate fairness, and a radiant star of film and music.
Born Kunlatorn Chivaaree in 1997, in the province of Nakhon Pathom, central Thailand, to Thai-American father and Thai-Chinese mother, he was the only child from a family that has not been described as poor. His parents divorced when he was young and he grew up with his maternal relatives. Answering to the nickname Bright, he spent his growing-up years in a music school owned by his uncle. Although he loves to play music instruments and is able to with several, he has not been regarded as musically gifted. The soccer-loving actor told Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, “I’ve been playing instruments—guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and other Western instruments—since a very young age, as I grew up in a music school”.
Bright Vachirawit as Sarawat playing the guitar in the drama 2gether: The Series. Screen shot: GMM TV/YouTube
He did not, however, mention a broadcasted interview with Elle Thailand in which he spoke of a music competition that he and the mates of a band he formed participated during high school (he attended two, but did not mention which). During the audition that was judged by teachers and seniors, they were not selected. On the day of the finals, Mr Chivaaree and his band members “thought that (their) performance was much more interesting, and (their) friends would want to watch (them) play. (They) then prepared to go up on stage to perform, and asked those guys to leave the stage. Everyone was screaming and shouting. In the end, (they) were sent to the student affairs office.” As shocking as that revelation was, he did not seemed remorseful. Former schoolmates shared online their own take of what happened that day. Many thought that he still did not understand the impact of his actions, and was fervently glamourising it. As with the proverbial opening of a can of worms, more accusations emerged (even a teacher joined in the fray). He was accused of bullying, discrimination against LGBTQ classmates, sexual harassment, body shaming, and even colourism.
All this was little known (or not shared) when, at 22, Vachirawit Chivaaree became an overnight star playing the gay lead in the ’boys love’ (BL) TV rom-com 2gether: The Series, broadcast months before the Elle interview. Adapted from a 2019 eponymous Thai novel, the weekly drama would be so wildly popular that it is thought to have brought the BL genre to global attention, even when Japan was the first to introduce yayoi stories in the form of manga, anime, TV series, and other media. Mr Chivaaree took on the role of Sarawat, a musician and a footballer (nothing surprising in those two selves) in university, persuaded into a pretend relationship with Tine (a fellow student played by Metawin ‘Win’ Opasiamkajorn), who is the target of unwanted attention from another schoolmate. Too much noise (and the not-too-polite Gen-Z speak) and too much makeup characterised the unfolding narrative. Fake, as is often the case in Thai dramas, became real, the hard-to-get turned the unable-to-forget.
Bright Vachirawit as the smouldering Sarawat viewers are madly in love with. Photo: GMM TV
Gay characters are nothing new to Thai TV audiences, but 2gether brought sweet gay romance—not misfortune, repudiation, or indiscriminate sex—to a mass audience. Out of the dozen people we spoke to in Malaysia, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and on our island, all of them except one said it was “predictable”. One Malaysian K-drama fan said it’s very kiddy and is “targeted at teens”. In fact, university is one big social club of clubs. No one ever studies. Yet many fans were sucked into the pull of the simple plot and clichéd comedy (the two actors happily told the media that the drama is “light and easy to follow”). Viewers were talking about getting their “Sarawat X Tine fix”, even when some were saying that “the first half was great to watch but in the second, they were just like friends”. A month after it first aired in February 2020, the streaming platform Line TV reported 50 million views, prompting the online suggestion that it was the concomitant COVID-19 lockdown that was on the drama’s side. When production company GMMTV shared the drama on their YouTube page, the first episode alone garnered 29 million views to date. It was even picked up by Netflix, paving the way to American audiences.
The controversial high school reveal that emerged from the 2020 Elle Thailand interview was more or less confined to Thailand. Although he did apologise soon enough for what he said, he did not escape later, just-as-contentious tweets. Within months of the broadcast of 2gether, the show became a hit in the Philippines, and the massive market, China. In early April, Mr Chivaaree, a photography enthusiast, innocuously liked a post shared by a Thai photographer that featured four skylines referred to as “countries”, and Hong Kong, as fate would have it, was one of them. After a Chinese Weibo user shared a screen shot of that post, Chinese Netizens went quite mad about the actor’s seeming disrespect of China’s sovereignty and demanded an apology. He offered one on, but that wasn’t the end of it.
In Singapore this month for Burberry’s TB Summer Monogram bash at Tanjong Beach Club, Sentosa. Photo: Burberry
Not long after, his supposed girlfriend at that time, the influencer Weeraya Sukaram—aka Nnevvy—shared a Thai tweet that questioned China’s motive in not wanting foreign investigators in the country to determine whether COVID-19 was leaked from a Wuhan lab (and concurrently saying foreigners imported the virus). As with Mr Chivaaree’s retweet, Chinese Netizens were enraged. That was not the final misstep of Ms Sukaram. In one old post that they managed to uncover, she had responded to a question about her clothes she wore in a photograph by saying that the style was “Taiwanese”, again apparently acknowledging another neighbouring island to the mainland as distinct and separate from China. Mr Chivaaree, not yet distanced from her, was also embroiled in the anger she once again aroused among the Chinese. He apologised on her behalf.
The uproarious reaction in China mattered little to the Thais. When, in a tit-for-tat move, the former criticised and insulted Thai politicians and even the king, the Thais were happy that there were others doing the work for them (this was, after all, during the student protest of 2020). It is not known if Burberry is aware that their choice of Vachirawit Chivaaree as their new ambassador may rile the Chinese (still), with implications in possibly the brand’s biggest market, but in Thailand, the appointment is considered a triumph for the kingdom. Some Thais, however, did not think Mr Chivaaree is the best pick, considering him too 2020 and reminiscent of the start of the pandemic. He is, they believe, not as popular as before, even if he is still very recognisable, and well loved among Thai advertisers. There are those who think the current favourites, PP and Billkin—either one of them should have been considered by Burberry.
In the latest Burberry campaign. Photos: Burberry
Although 2gether: The Series was given a second season Still 2gether and the film 2gether: The Movie, with Vachirawit Chivaaree and Metawin Opasiamkajorn in the lead roles, it would be another BL drama, the two-parter I Told Sunset About You and I Promised You the Moon, that found another group of fervid fans. The two male-leads-in-love this time are Krit ‘PP’ Amnuaydechkorn and Putthipong ‘Billkin’ Assaratanakul. Both actors are Bangkok-born and are singers (like Mr Chivaaree, Mr Assaratanakul sings the theme songs of the TV series that he stars in), and both have such on-and-off-screen chemistry that there was persistent “rumours that PP and Billkin were ‘together’ during their school years”, one Bangkok media professional told us. Is it true, we asked. “It’s hard to say,” she replied, “but people like to believe that they were. It’s great for the fandom. That’s why I think what they represent seems bigger than who they really are.”
Perhaps what the actors of extremely popular BL drama represent matters not to Burberry as much as the reach of the brand ambassador they pick. Despite I Told Sunset About You’s huge commercial success—in China, too, where they enjoyed a Douban score of 9.4 out of 10—and critical acclaim—A Bangkok Post review enthused: “At times sensual, at times heartbreaking, Sunset was a well-rounded, coming-of-age drama with good writing, and beautiful cinematography to match”, it would be Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree’s shinning star that impressed Burberry’s casting director. In the brand’s images just released, Mr Chivaaree, with those beguiling locks and speaking eyes, looks adequately aloof and moodily romantic—an expression that seems to say, as he did when he, in 2gether, met Tine for the first time, “Keep looking at me like that and I will kiss you till you drop.” Totally “grumpy” Sarawat.