Ingenious, Thrilling, and Heartfelt, BAD GENIUS ฉลาดเกมส์โกง Makes Cheating Into An Art-form
Lynn, math prodigy and top student in her school, is pulled into helping her friend Grace cheat during a school examination. What seems like a simple favour turns into something grander and riskier, though, when Grace’s boyfriend Pat convinces Lynn to start an exam-cheating business, together with Grace and another top scholar named Bank.
Director: Nattawut Poonpiriya
Cast: Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Chanon Santinatornkul, Teeradon “James” Supapunpinyo, Eisaya Hosuwan
Runtime: 130 mins
If there’s one thing we Asians know best, it’s sitting for examinations. And when the going gets too tough, how many of us here have contemplated, or even seriously considered, finding an easier route to getting our desired grades? How many of us have, in an attempt to ignore our studies, devised imaginary methods of cheating that just might work — even if it’s only in the safety of our own minds?
Well, Bad Genius takes this fantasy and brings it to the big screen, but it’s not stopping at a mere school examination; it’s aiming for STIC (Standard Test for International Colleges), an international standardised test for university admissions. And that’s when things get a little crazy — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The main character Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), though intellectually-gifted, is not talented at making friends. Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), on the other hand, is great at making friends, and she capitalises on Lynn’s lack of social skills to convince Lynn to help her cheat on a school examination. This snowballs into an exam-cheating business after Grace’s boyfriend Pat (Teerandon “James” Supapunpinyo) gets involved, and Lynn and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) — another top student who abhors cheating — are at the center of it. Their final aim? To cheat at the STIC.
Bad Genius might take place in a secondary school, but it’s more than just a school drama. In fact, it’s structured more like a Hollywood heist film, and while the film centers around cheating, its narrative also offers insights into Thailand’s class inequalities and its flawed education system.
Lynn and Bank are from lower-class family backgrounds, while Grace and Pat have little monetary woes. Despite having the brains, Lynn and Bank are taken advantage of by the wealthier students; as the faces of this exam-cheating scheme, they are the ones risking everything in order to help the rest of the students cheat. On the other hand, Grace and Pat have little to lose, even though they were the ones who came up with the initial idea.
This seems to be a commentary on the class inequalities that are perennial in Thailand; as seen from Lynn and Bank’s situation, the poor seem doomed to be constantly exploited by the wealthy, regardless of intellect or capabilities.
Aside from its deeper themes, the film is also extremely entertaining to watch, and has all the makings of a great heist film. It is witty and intelligent, and the use of classical music pieces as a method of cheating in a multiple-choice quiz is a stroke of genius that left me in absolute awe as I watched it play out on screen. Meanwhile the soundtrack, pounding and thrumming with nervous energy in the background, builds up to an almost heart-palpitating, anxiety-inducing crescendo at the film’s suspenseful climax.
Like other films in its genre, there is also an exciting chase scene through a subway station, and much like the Ocean’s Eleven series, there’s also an odd sense of camaraderie that forms between the quartet, which provides little sprinkles of humour throughout their interactions.
Thankfully, however, there is none of the contrived romance that exists in Hollywood films in Bad Genius. Grace and Pat are an already-established couple, and while there might be a little something cooking between Lynn and Bank, it doesn’t distract from the main storyline and is, in fact, almost negligible.
The film also boasts of a great cast, most of who are newcomers to the industry. Chutimon, a model, makes an amazing screen debut as Lynn, and her awkward gawkiness is played with almost as much charm as her rebellious, somewhat cocky, side; while Chanon’s radical transformation from a goody two-shoes who abhors cheaters to one of the people headlining the exam-cheating operation is gritty and almost heart-breaking in its realism.
James (who also played the role of the protagonist in the 2018 film Homestay, which we reviewed here), in his portrayal of Pat, deftly manages to string the flippant, pampered aspect of his character perfectly with his more opportunistic, entrepreneurial side in a way that seems natural and utterly believable, and Eisaya’s characterisation of the seemingly-naive Grace is also charismatic and delightful.
There is nothing particularly bad about Bad Genius — the film’s formulas for cheating are too smart to rebuff against, the dramatic script that also doubles as a social commentary is more complex and nuanced than it seems, and its characters are full of heart and authenticity. Grounded in depth and layered in its narrative, Bad Genius is an emotional thrill ride that’s as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
You can watch the film on Netflix. Meanwhile, here’s the trailer: