Bad Genius

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Bad Genius
Chalard Games Goeng theatrical poster.jpg
Thai theatrical poster
Directed byNattawut Poonpiriya
Produced by
Written by
  • Nattawut Poonpiriya
  • Tanida Hantaweewatana
  • Vasudhorn Piyaromna
Starring
Music byHualampong Riddim
CinematographyPhaklao Jiraungkoonkun
Edited byChonlasit Upanigkit
Production
company
Distributed byGDH 559
Release date
  • 3 May 2017 (2017-05-03) (Thailand)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryThailand
LanguageThai
Box office$42.35 million (as of 22 October 2017)[1]

Bad Genius, known in Thai as Chalard Games Goeng (ฉลาดเกมส์โกง),[a] is a 2017 Thai heist thriller film produced by Jor Kwang Films and distributed by GDH 559. It was directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, and stars Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying in her feature film debut as Lynn, a straight-A student who devises an exams-cheating scheme which eventually rises to international levels.

Inspired by real-life news of students cheating on the SAT, the film transplants the heist film structure to a school-exams setting, and features themes of class inequality as well as teen social issues. The young main cast consist of relative newcomers Chanon Santinatornkul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo and Eisaya Hosuwan as Lynn's classmates Bank, Pat and Grace, while Thaneth Warakulnukroh plays her father. Filming took place on location in Thailand and Australia.

Bad Genius was released on 3 May 2017, placing first at the Thai box office for two weeks and earning over 100 million baht (US$3 million), becoming the highest-grossing Thai film of 2017. The film performed successfully overseas. It broke Thai film earning records in several Asian countries, including China, where it earned over $30 million, making it the most internationally successful Thai film ever. Critics praised the film for its engaging storytelling despite the mundane setting, as well as the acting, especially Chutimon's. The film won a record-breaking twelve categories at the 27th Suphannahong National Film Awards, as well as multiple awards on the international festival circuit.

Plot[edit]

Lynn, a top secondary school student living with her father, is accepted into a prestigious school, earning a scholarship for her academic achievements. There, she is befriended by the good-natured but academically challenged Grace. Lynn begins helping Grace cheat in exams after finding out that their teacher has been leaking questions in private tutoring sessions. She is then approached by Grace's rich boyfriend Pat, who offers payment in exchange for also helping him and his friends. Although at first reluctant, Lynn agrees when she finds out that the school took payments of "tea money" from her father, who earns a modest income as a teacher. She devises a system of hand signals, based on certain piano pieces, and uses them to send answers during exams. Her base of clients eventually grows. However, her cheating is inadvertently revealed by Bank, another top student. She is reprimanded by her father and the school, which suspends her scholarship, as well as her chance to apply for an international scholarship at the university level.

Lynn returns to the cheating business when Pat and Grace ask her to help them cheat in the STIC—an international standardised test for university admissions—a scheme which will earn them millions of baht. However, Lynn tells them that she can only do it with Bank's help, and honest, upright Bank would never join them. However, Bank, who is from a poor family and is staking his future on the same university scholarship, is incidentally attacked by thugs in the street and misses the exam. Lynn then approaches him with the offer and Bank reluctantly agrees.

Together, they make preparations for the final operation. Lynn and Bank will fly to Australia in order to get a head start on the exams, which are held globally on the same day, and send back answers for Pat and Grace to distribute to the clients. However, on the eve of their flight, Pat lets slip that it was he who ordered the thugs to beat up Bank, in order to force him to join their scheme. Enraged, Bank attacks Pat and leaves. Lynn, shocked at the revelation, begins rethinking her actions. However, Bank returns to confront Lynn, telling her to finish what she started.

In Sydney, Lynn and Bank complete the first sections of the test according to plan, but Bank is overcome by anxiety and is caught. Lynn struggles to memorise the final section herself, but finally pulls through. She is pursued by the test administrator after feigning illness and leaving the test centre early, but is released when Bank tells the staff he doesn't know her.

Returning home, Lynn finds that their scheme was a great success, but, broken by the experience, turns her back on her co-conspirators. Some time later, she visits Bank, who has invested his share in revamping his mother's laundry business. Bank invites Lynn to start a different scheme, this time with a much wider client base—those taking the national GAT & PAT exams. She turns him down, telling him that she's made her choice. Lynn finally decides to come clean, tearfully confessing to her father, who comforts her and helps her redeem herself by submitting a formal confession to the STIC organisation.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Director Nattawut previously directed GTH's 2012 psycho thriller Countdown.

Bad Genius was produced by Jira Maligool and Vanridee Pongsittisak, executives and veteran producers at GDH (previously GTH).[b] Jira came up with the film's premise when he heard on the news that SAT scores were being cancelled in China due to a cheating scandal.[c] The producers then invited Nattawut Poonpiriya to direct the film. Nattawut had previously directed the company's 2012 psychological thriller Countdown, and the producers believed his ability would lend itself to developing Bad Genius as a heist film. Nattawut was immediately intrigued, and agreed to direct the project, which was developed under the working title "2B Come Won" (a reference to the 2B pencils used to fill in test choices).[5]

Nattawut wrote the script together with Tanida Hantaweewatana and Vasudhorn Piyaromna, researching the format details of current standardised tests as well as actual methods of exam cheating seen in the news.[6] The script took about ​1 12 years to complete.[7] The story was developed as a Hollywood-style heist/caper thriller, but the writers made efforts to ground it in a context that would still be relatable to a Thai audience.[8] A major challenge, according to Nattawut, was telling the story of students taking exams—"perhaps the most boring activity on earth"—in a compelling manner.[6] The film's secondary theme, that of the characters' contrasting social backgrounds, emerged during the writing process.[5]

Casting[edit]

Lead actress Chutimon is a fashion model making her film debut.

The film's main cast is relatively inexperienced—none of the four young main actors had film roles in a major studio production prior to 2017. Lead actress Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, who plays Lynn, is a fashion model making her acting debut. Chanon Santinatornkul plays the role of Bank, and Pat and Grace are played by Teeradon Supapunpinyo and Eisaya Hosuwan, respectively. (Chanon, Teeradon and Eisaya have past TV acting experience.) According to Nattawut, casting for the four main actors took a long time before arriving at the four final choices, who were virtually perfect fits for their roles.[9] He was so impressed with their work that he allowed them considerable room for improvisation during filming.[10] The chemistry underlying Lynn and Bank's relationship, for example, was unscripted,[7] and part of Pat's sales pitch speech was ad-libbed by Teeradon.[9]

The only veteran actor in a major role is Thaneth Warakulnukroh, who plays Lynn's father. Primarily a singer and songwriter, Thaneth had been absent from acting for over thirty years when Nattawut came across a magazine interview of him, and invited him to cast for the role.[11] Thaneth brought a special warmth to the character, leading Nattawut to modify the script and make the father less controlling, resulting in a more profound father-daughter relationship.[12]

The actors underwent acting workshops for a couple of months before filming commenced. Romchat Tanalappipat served as acting coach, and worked with the actors before and during filming.[13] Special preparations by the actors include Chutimon having to practice writing with her left hand, as her character is left-handed, and Chanon memorising the value of pi to over the 30th digit.[14][15]

Filming[edit]

Redfern railway station was the location for a particularly challenging scene.

Most of the filming took place in Thailand, while about 30 percent was shot on location in Sydney, Australia.[16] About ten crew members flew to Australia from Thailand, while most of the Sydney filming unit was sourced locally. Filming in Sydney was subject to many more restrictions than in Thailand, including strictly limited shooting times.[9] A particularly challenging scene to film was a chase scene which took place at the underground section of Redfern railway station, which had to be fitted into the trains' normal running schedule.[17]

Stylistically, Nattawut says he was inspired partly by 1970s thrillers such as The Conversation, The Parallax View and All the President's Men, leading him to mix in a certain 1970s retro/vintage style in Bad Genius.[18] Stills from The Godfather were used as a colour palette reference during post-production work done with Kantana Post Production.[19] Nattawut also used 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as a reference.[12]

The film was officially announced by GDH at a press event on 20 April 2017, along with the release of its theme song "Mong Chan Tee" (มองฉันที,[d] which translates as "Look at Me"). Performed by Suthita Chanachaisuwan, the song is a rearrangement of the song "Why Can't You See" by Thai indie pop band Fwends, with new lyrics by Apiwat Eurthavornsuk.[11]

Release and reception[edit]

Actors Chanon (left) and Teeradon, in a promotional video for the film's Taiwan release. The film became a hit there, and Chanon in particular was the subject of a craze among Taiwanese fans.[20]

Bad Genius premiered in Thailand on 3 May 2017 at 20:00 (in early preview screenings prior to its full release the following day), earning a hugely positive response from viewers.[21] It was shown on 216 screens,[22] earning 44.15 million baht (US$1.3 million) at the box office over its opening weekend and placing first in Thailand's box office for two consecutive weeks.[23][24] It passed 100 million baht—a common success benchmark for Thai films—on 20 May, and by the end of its theatrical run on 14 June, had earned 112.15 million baht ($3.3 million), making it the highest-grossing Thai film of 2017.[25]

The film was released internationally throughout East and Southeast Asia, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.[e] It proved to be very successful. It placed first at Hong Kong's box office on its opening weekend,[35] while in Taiwan and Malaysia, the film opened to limited screens but rapidly gained popularity by online word-of-mouth, also rising to the top of the box office in Taiwan.[36][28] It broke records for highest-grossing Thai film in Cambodia,[37] Taiwan,[37] Malaysia,[38] Hong Kong[39] and Vietnam.[31]

The film was released in mainland China on 13 October 2017, a rare occurrence of a Thai film securing a wide release, unedited, in the country.[31] It was very popular, placing second at the Chinese box office and sixth globally (third excluding the US and Canada) during the weekend of 13–15 October.[40][41] After seventeen days, it had earned $38.4 million (or $36.5M, depending on sources),[42][43] the highest gross ever of any Thai—or Southeast Asian—film in any overseas market.[44] It was a huge success for Chinese distributor Hengye Pictures, who acquired the rights for flat fee of $3.3 million.[45]

Bad Genius's international success has been compared to that of several Thai hits during the early 2000s, including Ong-Bak, whose previous overseas record was surpassed by Bad Genius soon after its China release.[46] However, the Bangkok Post's film editor Kong Rithdee noted that Bad Genius appeared to be an isolated case, as wider government support of the creative industry was still lacking.[47] Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, GDH's senior director of international business affairs, attributed the film's success (despite the unconventional genre for Thai cinema) to its mainstream story, as well as the region's shared competitive academic culture, which made the film relatable to a wider Asian audience.[37] Although Yongyoot said that the studio's films catered first and foremost to the Thai audience, and that international sales were seen as a bonus, GDH CEO Jina Osothsilp later commented that the company was working to expand its presence in the international market, and that Bad Genius's success in China served as an important milestone in that mission.[22][48]

On the festival circuit, Bad Genius was screened as the opening feature of the 16th New York Asian Film Festival on 30 June 2017; it was the first Southeast Asian film chosen to open the event.[49] The film was also screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal,[50] the New Zealand International Film Festival,[51] the Focus on Asia Fukuoka International Film Festival,[52] and Fantastic Fest in Austin,[53] as well as the Vancouver,[54] BFI London,[55] Hawaii,[56] San Diego Asian,[57] Toronto Reel Asian,[58] Leeds,[59] Luang Prabang[60] and Toronto International Film Festivals,[61] and CinemAsia in Amsterdam.[62]

Bad Genius was released on DVD on 16 November 2017 (after a delay from a previously announced 21 September release date), with a special edition available via pre-order.[63] It was made available online via the iTunes Store and HOOQ the same day.[64] The film was released on Netflix on 1 June 2018.[65] A novelisation, written by Jidanun Lueangpiansamut and published by Jamsai Publishing, was released on 12 June 2018.[66]

A Bollywood remake of the film, to be supervised by Neeraj Pandey and co-produced by Reliance Entertainment, Plan C Studios and Azure Entertainment, was announced in June 2018.[67] Rights to an American remake have reportedly also been sold, according to unofficial sources.[68]

Critical response[edit]

The film was met with critical acclaim in Thailand. Critics praised the film's concept and design, which tackled a familiar, mundane subject and turned it into an exciting caper thriller—something never before seen in Thai cinema. Kong Rithdee observed, "An academic test is the most boring activity on earth. The film's conceit is to turn it into a gladiatorial ring, a place of risk, wit and sublime deception ... and against the odds it works."[69] While Nation TV's Natthapong Okapanom said, "Bad Genius is a work of craft that will help raise Thai cinema to another level of diversity."[70]

Chutimon and Thaneth in particular were commended for their portrayals of Lynn and her father.[71] Praise was also given to the editing and the script—according to A Day magazine's Phanuphan Veeravaphusit: "Due credit must be given to ... the photography, with its unfamiliar-yet-meaningful angles, and shots taken to second-by-second detail, which, combined with the fast-paced editing, add to the suspense, stirring the viewers' emotions throughout the entire story."[72] Many noted the film's subtle critique of Thai society's inequality issues and problems with its education system—although some found fault with the somewhat moralizing ending.[72][73] Most agreed, however, that despite any flaws, the film succeeded in providing excellent entertainment value.[74]

The film likewise received largely positive responses from international critics. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 92% based on thirteen reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10.[75] Reviewing the film for The Hollywood Reporter, Clarence Tsui wrote, "Bad Genius scores high marks as a ceaselessly entertaining thriller that cedes little ground to the cheap comedy and sentimentality of recent Thai hits."[76] And according to Variety's Maggie Lee, "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."[77] There were also mixed opinions regarding the ending. While Sarah Ward wrote in Screen that "the feature never shouts its message, nor lets it get in the way of its lively heist-like action,"[78] the South China Morning Post's Ben Sin commented, "It’s an odd narrative departure [which] gives the impression that Thailand's film censorship system is as strict with moral guidelines as is its mainland Chinese counterpart."[79]

Accolades[edit]

Bad Genius dominated the 27th Suphannahong National Film Awards, held for Thai films released in 2017. The film won a record-breaking twelve categories including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay, as well as Best Actor and Best Actress.[80] It also set a record for number of nominations received (sixteen nominations in fifteen categories, i.e. every category except Best Original Song).[81] At the Bangkok Critics Assembly Award, the film received eleven nominations in ten (out of thirteen) categories, tying in number of nominations with indie film ThaiBan The Series,[82] and won nine, including all five main categories.[83] Bad Genius was also nominated for Best Screenplay at the 12th Asian Film Awards, where Chutimon won Best Newcomer.[84][85] It was one of the four finalists considered by the National Federation of Motion Pictures and Contents Associations for Thailand's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but was not chosen, in favour of 2016's By the Time It Gets Dark.[86]

The film also won several awards on the festival circuit. It won the Best Feature award at the New York Asian Film Festival, and lead actress Chutimon received the festival's Screen International Rising Star Asia award at the film's screening.[87][88] Competition jury Kristina Winters spoke of the film, "[Bad Genius] re-envisions the heist movie with grades instead of gold and proves that commercial films can still be innovative and remind us why we love movies. With a complex plot, relentless pacing, driven editing, and strong performances, it makes test-taking exciting and had us on the edge of our seats."[89] The film also won awards at the Fantasia Film Festival,[90] Fantastic Fest[91] and the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.[92]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient Result
16th New York Asian Film Festival 15 July 2017 Jury Award[87] Won
Rising Star Award[88] Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying Won
20th Fantasia International Film Festival[90] 2 August 2017 Cheval Noir - Best Director Nattawut Poonpiriya Won
Séquences Award - Best Film Won
Audience Award - Best Asian Feature Won
Audience Award - Most Innovative Feature Film Won
26th Fukuoka International Film Festival 19 September 2017 Audience Award[93] Won
13th Fantastic Fest 28 September 2017 Best Picture - Thriller Features[91] Won
21st Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival 12 November 2017 Menkes Audience Choice Award[92] Won
27th Suphannahong National Film Awards[80] 11 March 2018 Best Picture Won
Best Director Nattawut Poonpiriya Won
Best Actor Chanon Santinatornkul Won
Best Actress Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying Won
Best Supporting Actress Eisaya Hosuwan Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Teeradon Supapunpinyo Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Thaneth Warakulnukroh Won
Best Screenplay
  • Nattawut Poonpiriya
  • Tanida Hantaweewatana
  • Vasudhorn Piyaromna
Won
Best Cinematography Phaklao Jiraungkoonkun Won
Best Film Editing Chonlasit Upanigkit Won
Best Recording and Sound Mixing Narubett Peamyai for Kantana Sound Studios Co., Ltd. Won
Best Original Score Hualampong Riddim Won
Best Art Direction Patchara Lertkai Won
Best Costume Design Pawaret Wongaram Won
Best Makeup Effects
  • Arporn Meebangyang
  • Savitree Sukhumwat
Nominated
Best Visual Effects
  • Yggdrazil Group Co., Ltd.
  • Posters Co., Ltd.
Nominated
12th Asian Film Awards 17 March 2018 Best Newcomer[85] Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying Won
Best Screenplay[84]
  • Tanida Hantaweewatana
  • Vasudhorn Piyaromina
  • Nattawut Poonpiriya
Nominated
26th Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards[83] 28 March 2018 Best Picture Won
Best Director Nattawut Poonpiriya Won
Best Actor Chanon Santinatornkul Won
Best Actress Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying Won
Best Supporting Actor Thaneth Warakulnukroh Won
Best Supporting Actor Teeradon Supapunpinyo Nominated
Best Screenplay
  • Nattawut Poonpiriya
  • Tanida Hantaweewatana
  • Vasudhorn Piyaromna
Won
Best Cinematography Phaklao Jiraungkoonkun Nominated
Best Editing Chonlasit Upanigkit Won
Best Production Design
  • Patchara Lertkai
  • Tarntup Reungtara
Won
Best Original Score
  • Hualampong Riddim
  • Vichaya Vatanasapt
Won

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Thai title (pronounced [tɕʰa.làːt.kēːm.kōːŋ] (About this sound listen), RTGSChalat Kem Kong), is a play on the Thai phrase chalat kaem kong (ฉลาดแกมโกง, pronounced [tɕʰa.làːt.kɛ̄ːm.kōːŋ] (About this sound listen)), which means "clever/cunning in a cheating way". The English loanword game supplants the middle word, giving the meaning "clever in the game of cheating".
  2. ^ Jira and Vanridee also acted as script supervisors. The film also lists three additional producer credits: Suwimon Techasupinan, Chenchonnee Soonthonsaratul and Weerachai Yaikwawong.
  3. ^ From 2014, the SAT has been subject to repeated cheating scandals in China and other East Asian countries.[2][3] Reported cheating techniques include hired agents taking the test in earlier time zones in order to identify questions used in the test.[4]
  4. ^ Pronounced  [mɔ̄ːŋ.tɕʰǎn.tʰīː], rtgs: "Mong Chan Thi".
  5. ^ Countries and territories include Laos,[26] Singapore,[27] Cambodia,[27] Taiwan,[28] Malaysia and Brunei,[27] Hong Kong and Macau,[29] Indonesia,[27] Myanmar,[30] Vietnam,[27] mainland China,[31] the Philippines,[32] South Korea,[33], Australia and New Zealand,[34] and Japan.[31]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Strauss, Valerie (21 January 2016). "SAT canceled in some Asian test centers because of security breach". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
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