In 2012, after Nattawut Poonpiriya’s directorial debut Countdown flopped at the local box-office and was attacked by some young critics, that film silently came to Udine and became the first and only Thai film to seize the Far East Film Festival’s top trophy. Five years later, Poonpiriya has proved his previously unrecognised talent everywhere, from Asian theatres to western festival circuits, with his sensational follow-up Bad Genius. It is one of a few Thai films that has broken into wide release in China, alongside its march across Southeast Asia. The movie has also been travelling to many western festivals, some of which have bestowed acting awards upon first-time leading actress Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying. Not surprisingly, Bad Genius also swept two-thirds of the national and critics’ film awards in Thailand.
Bad Genius plots something of a nonwestern tradition – the longtime educational nightmare of high-pressure examinations facing most Asian students and youngsters – as a modern and tight exploration of the business of cheating. Lynn, a genius girl and the pride of her school, first cheats by helping her best friend Grace in one of their tests. Grace, like many girl from a rich family, prefers to enjoy life rather than study. She transforms her friend’s help into a business to help her rich classmates. Lynn accepts this as a form of revenge against her schoolmaster’s request for ‘tea money’ in exchange for Lynn’s enrolment in the school. Things go wrong when Lynn is asked to expand her business by taking the international English exam, a prerequisite for English-speaking universities. Lynn needs one more genius student, Bank, to assist in this business. Both of them fly to take the exam in Australia, whose timezone is far enough ahead of other countries that they can send the answers back to their clients before exams begin in Thailand. Unfortunately, their plan fails and both genius students encounter a side of life they have never seen before.
Bad Genius goes beyond a normal reflection of high-school misdemeanors with a complex script, tight editing and the natural performances of its cast. The storytelling does not only revolve around the school system and the cool lives of bad boys and girls, but also touches on the corruption of the Thai education system. Lynn would never have begun her cheating business if she had not found out that her poor father was charged tea money. In fact, she does it as a form of revenge against that system. Scenes are presented with concise and tight pacing, especially Lynn’s gimmicks in cheating. Music and piano keys are used as clues to their cheating process, and the film’s cinematography heightens the atmosphere created by the masterly mise-en-scene.
In a double role, first-time actress Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying demonstrates a bright future, portraying both good and bad characters at the same time. She looks exceptionally devious, but when she encounters a hard time, she also confronts and overcomes it. It is no surprise that she has swiftly become a kind of exam idol for many youngsters in China, and won acting awards in New York, Hong Kong and Berlin. Other performers also do well, including singer-cum-actor Thanet Warakulnokhroh as a caring but faithful father and Chanon Santinatornkul as genius-gone-bad Bank.
Bad Genius proves that Nattawut Poonpiriya has a long future in telling the stories of bad boys and girls. Life is not always paved with roses, and in today’s world such a reflection transforms the cinema into a real reflector of life.
Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya
Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya was born on 12 March and graduated in Acting from Srinakharinwirot University. He worked as an assistant director in an advertising company before further his education in graphic design in New York. He was contacted by GTH after his short Countdown was shown to friends in New York to extend it into feature. The film was also the first and only Thai film that won an award in Udine (FEFF 2013).
2012 – Countdown
2017 – Bad Genius