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.
By turning his nerdy egghead protagonists into hustler heroes, Poonpiriya calls out Asia’s rote-learning and grades-obsessed academic culture. The film, which rocked domestic box office and sold all across Asia, is screaming for a remake — and could well get noticed in the west after premiering stateside at the New York Asian Film Festival.
The film begins with a fait accompli: Exam papers of the Standard Test for International Colleges (STIC) have been leaked across several Asian countries. The student suspects’ testimonies serve as a framing device throughout the film as more is revealed about their background and motives.
The central figure is Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), an unflappable math prodigy who has an answer for every question. During her entrance interview for Bangkok’s most elite private school — at which her teacher dad (Thaneth Warakuklnukroh) eagerly brandishes an armful of trophies she’s won — the self-confident young lady plays hard to get by rattling off all the expenses of studying like a math formula until the principal offers her a full scholarship.
Lynn may be a know-it-all, but she has zero social skills. On enrollment day, Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), the class flirt, is the only one who befriends her. It becomes her one soft spot, so when Grace begs her to help her pass an important test, she can’t resist, resulting in a breathtaking stunt improvised with eraser and shoe.
Once she gets her hands dirty, there’s no going back, especially after Grace’s opportunistic boyfriend Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) smells the money in it and spins a lucrative franchise around her. The cheating formula they come up with – an integration of Morse Code with classical piano concertos – is so ingenious it could inspire copycats at school, and is absolutely hilarious to see unfold onscreen.
The plot thickens when Lynn finally meets her match, or nemesis, with the arrival of Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), another straight-A student who not only steals her thunder at a national quiz, but also competes with her for a coveted college scholarship in Singapore.
“Bad Genius” supplies a fresh angle to the frenemy formula as Lynn and Bank clash on intellectual as well as ethical grounds, while awkwardly falling for one another as only geeks can. By the time the two take off to Sydney for the STIC test, the richly layered screenplay has stacked up enormous stakes through a complex web of motives, from money and misguided loyalty to one-upmanship and the urge to kick against the educational establishment.
Their game plan, masterminded by Lynn and executed by Pat, Grace and a contingent of desperate students, is as elaborate as a heist, featuring gizmos that wouldn’t look out of place in a “Mission: Impossible” movie. Like any heist film, there are the unanticipated glitches — these happen in a toilet, shot in wacky, inventive angles by DP Phaklao Jiraungkoonkun, and culminate in a subway chase that’s choreographed and paced like a crime thriller.
Even if the setup is not totally convincing, at least it offers students a sweet fantasy. At the same time, the shenanigans underline a rigged social system that privileges the rich from childhood. Sitting the exams is always presented as a nerve-racking experience for Lynn and Bank, whose talents or diligence are funneled into serving the lazy or dumb brats whose parents can afford to pay. The film also alludes to schools’ corrupt practices of charging “tea money” for students who can’t make the grades, as the homeroom teacher provides cheat sheets to pupils who pay for his after-school tutorials.
The screenplay shrewdly drawing out protagonists’ personality and class differences, including Pat’s hereditary enterprising instincts and knack for using people, or Grace’s subtle emotional blackmail of Lynn (that she’s the diva of the school drama club leads one to question whether her friendship with Lynn is just a performance).
By contrast, Lynn and Bank have the brains but not the socially groomed cunning of their classmates. So it is especially saddening to see Bank’s loss of innocence, when he eventually realizes that even getting top grades and going to a good university can only get one so far without family wealth and connections. And it’s the subtler class distinctions between them, and the fact that Lynn is intellectually gifted while Bank only has a photographic memory, that chip away at their feelings for each.
The young cast burst with energy and have great comic timing. Teen model Chuengcharoensukying makes an eye-catching screen debut, radically transforming from square, gawky teacher’s pet to anti-social rebel to finally making peace with who she is or wants to be, while Warakuklnukroh (“Pop Aye”) is a warm and nurturing presence as her sad-sack father.
Film Review: 'Bad Genius'
Reviewed at Paragon Cinema, Bangkok, May 3, 2017. (In New York Asian Film Festival — opener.) Running time: 129 MIN. (Original title: “Chalard Games Goeng”)
Production: (Thailand) A GDH 559 (in Thailand) release of a Jorkwang Films production. (International sales: GDH 559, Bangkok.) Producers: Jira Maligool, Vanridee Pongsittisak, Suwimon Techasupinan, Chenchonnee Soonthonsaratul, Weerachai Yaikwawong. Executive producers: Jina Osothsilp, Boosaba Daorueng, Paiboon Damrongchaitham.
Crew: Director: Nattawut Poonpiriya. Screenplay: Poonpiriya, Tanida Hantaweewatana, Vasudhorn Piyaromna. Camera (color, widescreen): Phaklao Jiraungkoonkun. Editor: Chonlasit Upanigkit. Music: Hualampong Riddim, Vichaya Vatanasapt.
With: Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Eisaya Hosuwan, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Chanon Santinatornkul, Thaneth Warakuklnukroh, Sarinrat Thomas, Ego. (Thai, English dialogue)
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A common tendency among undergraduates is to short-circuit the process of writing a paper by ignoring what could be called the “prewriting” stage, which involves a number of steps that should be initiated LONG before the due-date. This “9-step program” is as follows:
The research stage actually starts with the selection of a topic, i.e., the broad subject area for investigation. It is often a good idea to start with a few films that you like, a filmmaker whose work you particularly enjoy or a period in history that intrigues you. The main secret to writing a good essay is to focus on a topic that interests you.
Refers to the specific focus of the research. An important first step in research is to narrow the topic to manageable proportions. You should limit yourself to a few films or a very specific historical period. Avoid being too broad (like trying to write the complete history of world cinema!). But you should also avoid being too narrow (although there are fine fine books on individual films, you should try to cover at least two or three productions). The nature of the issue selected is important in choosing the appropriate approach.
Start with a single, stimulating research question. Possible hypotheses may emerge at the working outline stage, but these should be based on wide reading and thinking – not on a “hunch”. The research question sets the direction of the assignment. The student’s task is to develop an answer or thesis (what is it that this paper will try to “demonstrate”). This stage is a crucial one. Besides setting the direction of the research, the phrasing of the question helps to establish the tone of the paper and defines its scope. Although the essay may contain descriptive, narrative, or biographical material, the solution to the problem requires analysis.
Students should develop a working bibliography – books, periodicals, magazines, newspapers, web sites etc. – before starting the working outline. Learn how to use a complex research library. There are many resources available to help you find articles and books on films and filmmakers. You should start by visiting the Carleton University Library Web sites devoted to Film-related resources: http://www.library.carleton.ca/
If you cannot find enough sources, change the issue immediately.
Developing a preliminary structure for the essay before you have finished collecting information is most helpful. The working outline is a tentative list of main factors around which you anticipate the final answer will be structured. Unlike the Plan (stage 7), the working outline puts less emphasis on a linear structure than on a fluid arrangement of ideas emerging from the research question. Points included in the working outline constitute parameters within which the thesis will be articulated. During later stages of research, these points will be tested, and their importance and relevance determined. A good working outline provides an analytical framework for the next stage – the collecting of information. It helps to ensure a disciplined and ordered piece of work. The preparatory reading associated with the development of this working outline provides a solid background reservoir of knowledge on the topic as well.
Collecting and Classifying Information
Only now are you ready to start the research proper – the gathering and weighing of evidence to develop an answer to the research question. Systematic information-gathering and recording are essential if you are to make the best use of your research time and apply your discoveries to construct a coherent and convincing essay. The working outline provides the structure not only for collecting information but also for classifying and evaluating it. If a piece of information does not fit into this framework, you have two choices – either discard it as irrelevant, or create another section in the working outline to incorporate the information. A comprehensive and organized system of research notes is essential for a successful essay.
At this point, the ideas from the outline must be arranged much more specifically as “arguments” founded on the information gathered in stage 6. Too many essays are of the “cut-and-paste” variety, composed of excerpts from a few books spread out on the table, or from “highlighted” photocopies of periodical articles. A good piece of work should have a clear linear structure that should be worked out at this stage. The plan might include five main sections: an introduction; three main arguments (it could be two or four); and a conclusion. Subsequently, each of the three (or two or four) central arguments could be subdivided into two or three specific points. If your notes have been classified according to the headings in your outline, the progressive breakdown of detail at each stage is not difficult.
Drafting the material in the body to substantiate the thesis is a most important task. Many students seem determined to cram all their research notes into the paper. In doing so, they clutter and destroy their answers. If the research has been carried out properly, you should end up with far more material than you can possibly use. In the rough draft stage, there is a tendency to overwrite, and this is all right to a point, but be prepared, in the final stage, to prune ruthlessly. Ideally, every word, every phrase, every sentence, every paragraph must justify its presence. If you have prepared the ground properly, according to this model, the rough draft should very nearly “write itself”. Now is the time to let it flow without worrying too much about the niceties of style and form. Suppress the urge to polish your writing – one sentence at a time – at this stage. Get it out. Here, your subconscious plays an extraordinarily major role.
Along with the various stages of the prewriting process, this final stage is the one most frequently overlooked or wilfully ignored. Too often, the student submits what in effect is still a rough draft. This is insulting to the reader and, needless to say, simply unprofessional. A clean and polished final draft is important because readers are impressed by a neat, orderly, coherent piece of work. Imagine sitting down to read a section of your favorite Guide to Film Studies and being comforted wit numberous spilling terrors, vaulty gammar and tynsax, purky and caucasionally, nery vearly nicomprenensnible snapages with suspicious stains – gravy, jam, coffee, blood, sweat, tears, or worse – we have seen it all!! I suspect you would give it up in disgust and scream: “Who the &*#$ wrote this piece of &*!% ?” So the old saw applies here, too: you not only have to be professional, you have to appear to be professional. The “look” of your paper (cover page; standard margins; standard font; page numbers; titles in italics; appropriate indents for quotations etc.) is of the essence at this stage.
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