Bad Genius (2017)

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This being a Thai movie, I was pleasantly surprised to notice there are no ghosts or cheesy romantic couplings. Bad Genius is essentially a caper thriller and it is as suspenseful as they come.

While being engrossed with Bad Genius, my mind was flooded with memories. Confession time. I have cheated in a Chemistry test back in secondary three. I was utterly hopeless in the subject and an opportunity presented itself. Some classes did the test earlier by a day so I just needed to call in a favour from somebody who owed me. The prospect of finally seeing a good grade and gaining new-found respect from friends and my Chemistry teacher led me down the dark road. On the day of the test I was beaming with confidence and I even had the presence of mind to make a few minor errors just so I won’t be suspected of any wrong-doing. A few days later, my Chemistry teacher Mrs Lian looked pissed as hell as she distributed the marked scripts to us. But before she did that she declared that the results reflected how none of us understood her lessons. Then her eyes fell on me and a cold shiver ran down my spine. I remembered she said something like “but there was one thing that made me glad. Daniel who had never passed any Chemistry test finally did, and he scored the highest in the whole standard”. You would probably think I was as happy as a lark, but I wasn’t. I will share how it all ended at the end of this review.

Brilliant student Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying – that’s quite a mouthful) makes money by helping her classmates cheat on school tests. Her friends Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) and Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) then propose a million-Baht idea – to help students cheat on the STIC, an important standardised test used to gain placements in prestigious universities in the US. Lynn agrees to do it, but she can’t do it without Bank’s (Chanon Santinatornkul) help.

Bad Genius is one dynamite of a film. Who would have thought a simple idea of cheating in a test can go supernova. The narrative structure employed to tell the story is brilliant and assured. The twists and turns just keep on piling up, and not one time did I fall out of the story. The plot may be crazily far-fetched, but writer-director Nattawut Poonpiriya keeps it plausible and on the pulse. By that I mean it is instantly relatable, especially when we come up through the pressure-cooker education system.

The cast only has one recognisable veteran actor in Thaneth Warakulnukroh (Pop Aye) who plays Lynn’s father. The rest of the cast are newbies, led by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, a 21-year-old model making her acting debut. Their rawness shines through and it makes the characters compelling and believable. The writing is a mark of genius in that it comes up with ingenious methods to beat the school system; the trailer will give you a glimpse of that.

One of the things I always teach my kids in my writing class is to make sure the journey of the main character is never be too easy. Using a “two steps forward one step back” approach, there must be setbacks for the character to negotiate along the way and the narrative of Bad Genius exemplifies this to a T. When done well, you will be so caught up in the proceedings and wouldn’t be able to see the gears moving behind the seams. For this to work, the ground work of laying down all the characters’ myriad of motivations must be established well. Poonpiriya has done a superb job here, so much so that when the eventual comeuppance arrives it will hit you with a jolt to the jugular.

On top of that the movie has loads of heart and it puts the relentless pressure to succeed in the school system under the microscope. Bad Genius also works as a cautionary tale in that the end does not justify the means. Perhaps where the film could have done better is to examine certain issues that were brought up but weren’t handled in depth, like how the school is in itself “cheating” by requesting the parents pay for school maintenance and how exams are not the only measure to determine a student’s aptitude. But all this does not matter because the film clearly scores full marks in where it matters – a superb piece of entertainment.

Here I am again… as promised. I wish I could tell you that I stood up and told Mrs Lian about what I had done, but I was a coward. Words of praises that I thought would be music to my ears turned out to be stabs to my heart. Finally, I chicken out – I dropped the subject. When I delivered the authorisation letter to her, she was disappointed but I still couldn’t tell her the truth. That was the first and last time I cheated in a test, but years later in the university I did let my friends copy my work. I think I will leave that story for another time.

Any film that can harken back to my yesterdays deserve praise and this is only one of two films this year that pass another personal yardstick test of ours. If my wife and I are engaged in animated discussion about the film all through the journey back home, it usually means the film is an outstanding one.

 

4.5 / 5

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