Movie review: Why Thai film ‘Bad Genius’ is a global box office hit

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Cheating in school exams is an open secret. Almost everyone does it, but no one openly talks about it. Thai director Nattawut Poonpiriya came up a hip film “Bad Genius” that tackles this very sticky topic and wound up with the highest grossing film in Thailand this year, as well as the most profitable Thai film distributed worldwide of all time so far. Aside from “Shutter” (2004) and “Pee Mak” (2013), it isn’t very frequent that we get a Thai movie in local cinemas, so this one promises to be a really good one.

Lynn is a brilliant math genius and scholar in a prestigious high school. Her richer (but not so academically blessed) classmates conscripted her to let them copy her answers during major exams by tempting her with a generous fee of 3,000 baht per exam per person. When time came for the international-based STIC exams, Lynn called in her fellow genius scholar and competitor Bank for his incredible memory as the stakes of their massive cheating operation were raised to reach millions of baht for both of them.

Lynn was played by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, a fashion model who debuts as an actress in this film, and what an impressive debut it was. A lot of excitement and drama also hinged on the charismatic performance of Chanon Santinatornkul as Bank. They did not have typical teen-idol looks, but there was an unspoken chemistry between them which was quite thrilling, especially on that scene on the pedestrian bridge. 

The millionaire classmate Pat and his pretty popular girlfriend Grace were played by Teeradon Supapunpinyo and Eisaya Hosuwan, respectively. They play typical rich brats who think money can buy their way out of any situation. Thaneth Warakulnukroh played Lynn’s father, a humble schoolteacher Vit, in a most realistic and sympathetic way. I totally identified with his painful frustration and unwavering support of his daughter. 

The story was told and edited in a very exciting way, like a heist caper. The elaborate plans even involve Lynn and Bank flying to Sydney, Australia in order to get a four-hour headstart on the exam answers to transmit to Pat and Grace. I don’t know if this is based on a true incident in the past but that final sequence alternating between events in Sydney and Bangkok was very suspenseful. All possible thrill gimmicks were used to enhance the tension during that climactic series of events. 

Overall the movie is a cautionary tale against dishonesty. At my age, it was uncomfortable watching cheating shenanigans in school unfold on a big screen, but I am sure high school students will find it very funny and entertaining, but I hope not educational in terms of techniques. A twist before the ending came gave me a big jolt because of a shift in character which I did not expect and I did not like, but I admit that this change was not completely implausible. Lessons about academic integrity will be taught here in this film, and I hope the target audience learns it. 8/10

This review was originally published in the author’s blog, “Fred Said.”

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