Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 02, 2017 9:50 am 
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NATTAWUT POONPINYA: BAD GENIUS (2017) NYAFF

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Nerds turn to crime

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Dramatizing the clever capers of Thai high school kids who formed an exam-cheating syndicate, Bad Genius deserves full marks for a whip-smart script that makes answering multiple-choice questions as nail-biting and entertaining as Ocean’s Eleven. Produced by blockbuster powerhouse GHD (formerly GTH), the film is executed with that studio’s trademark technical slickness and hip style, but director Nattawut Poonpiriya (Countdown) also offers subtle yet stinging insight into Thailand’s class inequalities and corrupt school system. -- Maggie Lee, Variety

The climactic phase of this zippy new Thai film involves taking the SAT test in Sydney so brilliant teacher's daughter and scholarship student Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) and her reluctant shopkeeper's son rival Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) can send the memorized answers to bgf Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), entrepreneurial prodigy Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo)and all their other rich paying classmates at their fancy school in Bangkok, who'll take the same test, but three hours later because of the time difference. It's a brilliant and elaborate scheme involving hidden cell phones in a toilet and bar codes on a set of pencils but as cheating on the international exam increases, security gets tighter. Thaneth Warakulnukroh of the (in the US) recently released [Pop Aye plays Lynn's humble teacher dad.

The film is nerve-janglingly suspenseful, but its real interest is the interplay between nerdiness and social success. Must one sell one's soul to be popular? In a competitive school world where cheating is rife, wouldn't it be tempting to barter one's brilliance for a few million baht? Lynn turns to cheating because her one friend, the flirty Grace, is dull at academics. And Grace's boyfriend Pat is potentially the Steve Jobs of exam cheating schemes.

The whole thing isn't totally convincing, but it's so neatly presented and swiftly paced it's fun to watch. As Maggie Lee says, it might inspire a remake. Cheating on exams and intensity of academic competition are huge subjects in Asia but in the US too, and so are increasing gaps of class and money, a constant subtext here.

The secret is, the actors playing Lynn and Bank aren't really nerdy at all. The whole is framed with a series of filmed confessions that gives away the outcome.

Bad Genius/Chalard Games Goeng, 129 mins., debuted in Thailand 3 May 2017. One of the seven films in Main Competition in the NYAFF, it was also the festival's opening night film.

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