- Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan
- Starring Patchara Chirathivat, Somboonsuk Niyomsiri
- Released in Thai cinemas on October 20, 2011; rated 15+
- Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5
The story of Thailand's youthful fried seaweed snacks tycoon Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan (Top Secret วัยรุ่นพันล้าน), a.k.a. The Billionaire, has been widely compared to The Social Network, about the founders of Facebook and their rapid rise to billionaire status while they were still young men. So does that make director Songyos Sugmakanan and screenwriter Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit the David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin of Thailand? Perhaps. The movie is slickly done and the dialogue breezily cracks along.
The big difference is, the subject of Top Secret, Tao Kae Noi seaweed snack brand founder “Top” Aitthipat Kulapongvanich, is portrayed as a lot more likable guy than Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.
Along with The Social Network, Top Secret has also been compared by way of contrast to a Thai biopic released earlier in the year, the profile of a famous luk thung singer, Pumpuang (The Moon). Thai biopics are pretty rare because strong defamation laws mean the filmmakers run a big risk of getting sued. Pumpuang was especially problematic because the singer's survivors all dispute the source biography, so many of the tragedies, bad relationships and personal problems in Pumpuang's life were glossed over, with the focus put instead on musical sequences.
Top Secret, made with the cooperation of Top Aitthipat, goes a different route, and doesn't shy away from showing how arrogant and reckless Top was in his youth.
So there's a perfect story arc, which begins with Top's early success in making stacks of cash from online gaming and dropping out of business school. He then makes uninformed business decisions and lots of mistakes in his first venture of roasting chestnuts. Meanwhile, his family has been ruined financially by his own father's failed business ventures. Eventually, Top stumbles onto fried seaweed snacks, and by trial and lots of errors, comes up with a way to cook and package them. Much of the story is told in a flashback, by the 19-year-old Top to an impatient banker. Just as the loan officer is hoping to get rid of the kid, the irrepressible Top somehow reels the guy back in and has him hooked on his incredible rags-to-riches-to-rags story.
Top Secret is also notable for showing the inner-workings of Thailand's 7-Eleven corporation, with Top wearing out an office lobby seat while waiting for a chance to talk to the lady in charge of accepting new products. An exacting inspection of the factory doesn't go well, and Top runs the risk of making his first delivery late and getting off on the wrong foot.
Through his experiences in starting his business in his teens and becoming a (baht) billionaire by the time he was 26, the headstrong Top is taught many lessons in humility.
Carrying the movie is mop-headed young actor Patchara Chirathivat in his second big movie role after studio GTH's fun rock 'n' roll love story SuckSeed earlier in the year. It's been said the scion of Thailand's Central Department Store family was inspired by his own relationship with his father in the portrayal of a son who never quite measured up to his dad's expectations.
But the real revelation of the movie, it's heart and soul, is Somboonsuk Niyomsiri, an 80-year-old acting newcomer. But he's better known as Piak Poster, the director of a string of popular teen-oriented comedies and dramas in the 1970s. In Top Secret, he plays Top's kindly "uncle", who's there every step of the way for Top, helping to hawk roasted chestnuts, fry seaweed and sleep on the floor of the factory shophouse.