Review: In Bad Genius, director Nattawut Poonpiriya (who previously helmed Countdown, a peculiar New York-set home invasion thriller) crafts an extraordinary story about cheaters in standardized tests presented like a heist thriller. Additionally, it either criticizes or mocks or even actually makes fun of academic exams in a most exhilarating way.
With clever straightforward script and cinematic aptitude to treat classroom multiple-choice tests like Ocean’s Eleven, this film successfully delivers a scandalous guilty pleasure the size of The Talented Mr. Ripley. The result is a super entertaining heist-formulated classroom thriller, which scores high and graduate a cum laude.
The film centers on a socially awkward, math prodigy, Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), who successfully talks her way into an exclusive school as a ‘scholarship student’ much to her father’s (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) surprise. Unbeknownst to her, she’s like an only savant in a jungle of academically inept, spoiled rich kids who soon become dependent on Lynn. When money gets into the game, the significance of the title begins to embark, crowning Lynn the genius as the bad one… and a profitable one.
Bad Genius takes creativity into a whole new level as Lynn presents many inventive methods for cheating. One of them, which involves the use of classical piano reference, is very intriguing and, honestly, doable. To make it more intriguing and ‘dirty’, the film gambles by involving a sleazy business scheme using Lynn’s wit and exploit it to upscale the risk and on-screen profit.
Although circling around scams, Bad Genius injects criticism towards the moral ambiguity of the practice. In doing so, the film introduces rivalry subplot to the story and bring in a so-close-so-different character to Lynn named Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul). Bank is a moral challenge to Lynn and to the story, and Bad Genius takes this character seriously into developing the story upon social subtexts and balancing the ground.
As much as it works as an entertaining fun ride, Bad Genius is vocal in bringing out a social class issue in Thailand, which extends into the country’s educational system. Corrupted school system gives advantages to high-class citizens and almost gives them infinite privileges and choices. Meanwhile, low-class citizens have many restrictions, which hinder them from achieving higher education, triggering such events to finally happen.
While the underlying theme might sound heavy, Bad Genius wisely incorporates them into the story without stealing the spotlight from the characters, especially Lynn, who develops into a full-fledged human by the end of the story. Model, Chutimon, who portrays Lynn successfully gets Lynn’s persona manifested in her acting debut. Meanwhile, the older actor who portrays the father adds depth to the story.
In the end, Bad Genius makes a rare cinematic delight that contains a bigger theme in playful storytelling. Although the duration is a little overstretched and there are some conclusions left ambiguous, Bad Genius has shown us the face of Southeast Asia cinema people need to see.