BFI London Film Festival: Bad Genius

Bad Genius
Bad Genius
Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya
Starring Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying and Chanon Santinatornkul
Screening at LFF October 13th, 15th, 2017

by Richard Hamer

There are certain movies where you can tell, from the premise alone, whether you’ll enjoy them. Bad Genius, for example, is a Thai, high-school heist thriller, except instead of trying to rob a bank, a bunch of kids are trying to cheat on their university entrance exams. If this conjures up fevered images of pulse-pounding, last minute exam paper switches and elaborate, hand-signal based mass-cheating systems, then you will love this movie.

Everyone else will still quite like it, because Bad Genius is an eminently likeable movie.

When gifted, straight-A student Lynn receives a scholarship to a prestigious high-school, she soon finds herself at the centre of a school-wide plan to cheat on every exam ­en masse. Lynn is initially hesitant to do more than help best friend Grace, but when Grace’s rich boyfriend Pat approaches her with a scheme to earn money by cheating for an ever-increasing circle of ‘clients’, she relents. From there, the stakes – naturally – escalate, culminating in an absurdly complex plan to fly Lynn (and fellow honour-student-turned-cheater Bank) to Sydney, so they can take part in a highly secure, international university entrance exam, and send the answers back to Thailand.

With a sharp script, and some fine performances – particularly from Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying as Lynn – Bad Genius takes its ridiculous premise and runs with it, resulting in a fun movie that’s light on its feet, rarely drags, and has a keen sense of exactly how serious to take itself. For while its largely comic book in tone (while watching, the best comparison I could think of was the manga Death Note, except instead of someone dying, all the ingenious machinations result in someone getting really good exam results), Bad Genius is suffused with subtle social commentary, and an unexpectedly strong moral core. A lot can be said of the extreme psychological pressures placed on young people to perform academically, and – writing this from the UK, where university tuition fees continue to rise unchecked – Bad Genius’ obsession with scenes of money changing hands, from school to student, from student to student, from poor to rich, feels both horribly dirty, and hugely relevant. If one aspect of this moralising sits less well, it’s in the film’s ending, which – without spoiling – feels both morally confused, and a little unsatisfying.

But for the most part, Bad Genius can be taken on face value, for the enjoyable crime caper that it is. It’s amusing to think of it in comparison to big Hollywood heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven, and realise with a start just how well it stands up. The tightness of its pacing and editing, the likeability of its characters – it all adds up to the most unexpectedly edge-of-your-seat comedy thriller.

It comes highly recommended: Answering forty multiple choice questions in two hours has never been this exciting.


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