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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 5, 2017

Bad Genius Movie Review: This Year's Biggest Hit In Bangkok Is A Well Made Thai Movie About Cheating In Exams, Presented Like A Neat Thriller

‘BAD GENIUS’ is the biggest hit in Thailand this year when it was shown there in May and it will now be released in Manila on October 18. We were invited to its press preview and after seeing it, we felt we won’t be surprised it Hollywood would later come up with their own version of the movie and its ingenious premise.

The story concerns cheating in high school. The central character is Lyn Nilthep (the actress who plays her has a kilometric tongue twisting name, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), and we see her at the opening scene being investigated for cheating in her exams. In flashbacks, we see that she is a straight A student, smart but quite poor. Her dad, Vit (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), a lowly schoolteacher, wants her to go to an expensive private school, the best stepping stone to get to a prestigious college abroad, but they don’t have the means. As luck would have it, a top elite school offers her a scholarship with free lunch.

Lyn is quickly befriended by Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan, a lookalike of our own indie actress Ana Luna), a rich girl who’s not so bright. Grace wants to act in their school play but she can only do so if her grades are high enough, so she offers to play Lyn to help her pass her exams. Lyn agrees and soon, Grace’s rich boyfriend, Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo, a young version of our own Diether Ocampo), and some other classmates are also asking for her Lyn’s help. The money they pay her is extra income for Lyn and she saves them in her bank account. Lyn devises a plan where she uses her fingers like she’s playing classical music on the piano to give them the correct answers in their exams. She does not feel guilty since their school, teachers leak exam papers to students in return for alleged tutoring fees.

Soon, they also plan to cheat in Standard Test for International Colleges or STIC that will enable them to go to a school in Boston, USA. For this, they ask the help of Lyn’s equally bright rival, Bank Thanathon (Chanon Santinatornkul, who resembles our own Alfred Vargas). Initially, Bank rejects their idea but Pat cooks up a cruel plan to force him to participate. Lyn and Bank will take the exams in Australia and later text the correct answers to Grace and Pat in Bangkok who’ll take the same exam four hours later, Bangkok time. But alas, even the best laid plans can go awry.

The movie could easily be the story of an intrinsically good girl corrupted by peer pressure, but here, Lyn is shown enjoying being the criminal who masterminds the heist in their exams to pass various school exams. Chutimon succeeds in making the character of Lyn quite sympathetic even if you know what she’s doing is wrong. To think she’s better known as a model and this is just her first acting job. As the main protagonist, she is shown being detached at the start, what with being brainy something that is just natural for her. But then, she seems to welcome the challenge of putting one over the school authorities and we get to side with her and even wish she’d succeed in the illegal things that she is doing. But for her dad, it’s more important that she is a good person first, more than just being successful, so when the truth is discovered, your heart goes out to both dad and daughter.

Both Eisaya as Grace and Teeradon as Pat give excellent support, both not so academically bright but playing their roles with so much charm that you also somewhat root for them. It is Chanon as Bank who has the most well defined character arc, stern and defiant at first but later on realizes he can wield his own power if given the chance. In the end, he’s totally transformed and goes one step ahead of Lyn, but Lyn retreats.

The movie is directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya (best known for the horror flick, “Countdown”, which was set in New York), who also co-wrote it, and he succeeds in telling a gripping story and in giving his young cast terrific charaterizations to work with, better than the characters in the Hollywood TV series also set in high school, “Riverdale”, where the characters are mostly stupid.

The cheating scenes are presented ingeniously and make the film work well, through taut editing, as a thriller similar to other Hollywood heist and caper flicks. His treatment of Lyn is quite resourceful, showing her reflection in scenes with multiple mirros to convey the various sides of who she is. In the end, we know that despite what happened, she is not really callous or cynical and there is redemption for her.