LFF Review: Bad Genius

The pressure to perform well at school has always been intense. However, in Asia they take it to another level. Good exam results can mean the difference between a high-flying career and being stuck in lowly bureaucratic job. Failure can lead to suicide or ostracization. The education sector is a multi-billion-dollar industry with fierce competition at every level. Whilst students need top grades to progress to the most prestigious universities, there’s a huge gap between the rich and poor. Bursaries and scholarships do exist, but you have to be the best of the best to earn one. The affluent can buy their children private tutors, but it in no way guarantees success. The temptation is there to cheat and director Nattawut Poonpiriya’s uses this as the basis of his new film Bad Genius.

Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), a straight-A student, earns a scholarship into a prodigious school, much to the pleasure of her father (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), a teacher himself. She’s befriended by the affable Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), a wealthy, yet academically challenged student. Lynn begins to help her cheat in exams. When Grace’s wealthy boyfriend Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) finds out he offers her money in exchange for helping him and his friends as well. Lynn is reluctant to do so, but decides she needs the money to supplement her father’s meagre earnings. As the scheme snowballs, Lynn enlists the help of the other scholarship student Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), but events rapidly begin to spiral out of control.

Bad Genius is a pulse-raising and nerve-jangling thriller which transplants the tropes and devices of a heist film into the school environment. It became a smash hit in Thailand and is the highest grossing domestic film of 2017. The young cast is superb, with Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying particularly impressing on her acting debut. The editing and direction is kept taut by Poonpiriya, building up a frantic pace until the thrilling climax. It’s dastardly clever and entirely plausible, although the end does push the boundaries to the limit. Transposed into the classroom, Bad Genius is an intense crime drama which will keep you on the edge of your seat until the thrilling dénouement.

Bad Genius screens at London Film Festival on 13 & 15 October.

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