Bad Genius (Chalat Kem Kong)


Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that someone isn’t following you.

(2017) Thriller (GDH 559) Chutimon Cheungcharoensukying, Elsaya Hosuwan, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Chanon Santinatornkul, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Sarinrat Thomas, Ego Mikitas, Pasin Kuansataporn, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Kanjana Vinaipanid, Yuthapong Varanukrohchoke, Nopawat Likitwong, David Gray, Laluna Nitze. Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya

It is easy to admire smart people; it is also easy to distrust them. After all, knowledge is power and we all know what power does – it corrupts.

Lynn (Cheungcharoensukying) is a brilliant girl whose teacher father (Warakulnukroh) is trying to get her into one of Bangkok’s most exclusive private schools. It appears that her divorced dad won’t be able to afford the prestigious school’s fees and tuition but after Lynn accurately reads the headmistress’s (Thomas) greed, she uses math-based analysis to talk her way into a full ride scholarship.

Brilliant but socially awkward (the two often go hand in hand), she is befriended by Grace (Hosuwan), an aspiring actress who helps Lynn “look her best.” The two become fast friends and when Grace confesses to her much smarter companion that she’s worried about an upcoming math test, Lynn offers to tutor her for the test. However, Grace proves to be even dimmer than Lynn could account for and when she forgets everything she was supposed to have memorized for the test, Lynn writes the answers down on an eraser and ingeniously delivers them to Grace by a process that can only be called “shoe-mail.”

Grace’s wealthy boyfriend Pat (Supapunpinyo) sees a gold mine in test cheats and organizes a bit of a racket that the wealthy students of the school are only too happy to pay for if only to get their achievement-fixated parents off their backs. The fact that the school is charging her father exorbitant “maintenance fees” on what was supposed to be a free ride sways the formerly naïve Lynn and turns her cynical. She comes up with a brilliant idea utilizing codes tapped out on the desk like a piano etude. The plan works too – until another impoverished genius, Bank (Santinatornkul) blows the whistle on them. Lynn ends up getting her scholarship pulled.

Determined to right what Lynn sees as an inequity in that wealthier students who can afford it can bribe teacher for test answers in advance, she decides to go after the holy grail of test cheats – the Standardized Test for International Colleges or STIC, a fictional version of the SAT – with a bold and brilliant plan. Grace and Pat will help but she will need Bank and his photographic memory to pull it off. However, getting the test answers to students willing to pay for it isn’t going to be easy

The movie starts out as something of a social justice allegory with the hoity toity private school standing in for Thai society in general (and not far off from our own these days). It ends up as a slick heist thriller that wouldn’t be out of place on the resumes of Steven Soderburgh and Harmony Korine. Poonpiriya proves to be a director with formidable talent, melding the two disparate types of film into a singular whole that is entertaining as well as having something to say.

Cheungcharoensukying needs to carry the film and she does; considering that her background is in modeling and that this is her first feature film is absolutely astounding. The lady has plenty of screen presence and is able to handle Lynn in both her shy and socially awkward phase and in her cynical and criminal phase without making either look cliché. They are both Lynn but there are differences between the Lynn at the beginning of the film and the Lynn at the end.

The movie does take awhile to develop but once it gets going it’s like a runaway freight train. There’s also a sense of humor that is a bit sly and subversive; American audiences may not necessarily take to it but I’ve been wrong on that score before. While this is based on an actual issue that is scandalizing Asia at the moment (but not on a specific incident) it doesn’t let up on the fun either. This has a good shot at being remade by Hollywood according to the trades but I think discerning audiences would seek the original out if some distribution could be found. Certainly this is one to keep an eye out for; hopefully at the very least it will be a presence on the Festival circuit for the time being.

REASONS TO GO: Hollywood-slick, the film is as good a thriller that has come out this year. Chutimon is an actress with a future. The sense of humor here is subversive and fun.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a bit slow to develop.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of violence and peril, not to mention some mild profanity and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actor playing Lynn’s father (Warakulnukroh) also starred in Pop Aye which played at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and is set to be released by Kino-Lorber later this month.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bling Ring
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: KFC

Pick of the Litter – July 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

(EuropaCorp/STX) Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke. Based on the landmark graphic novel and brought to life by French director Luc Besson, this movie follows the exploits of Valerian and his partner in crime Laureline who are tasked with the assignment of protecting Alpha, an amazing city where thousands of sentient beings gather to share technologies, cultures and knowledge with one another. It is truly a city of peace but it has become threatened by an unknown force and it is up to the two agents to not only discover who the threat is coming from but head it off before the galaxy is plunged into an all-encompassing war. July 21

INDEPENDENT PICKS

City of Ghosts

(IFC/Amazon) Matthew Heineman. From the director of Cartel Land comes this extraordinary documentary which chronicles the attempts of citizen journalists in the occupied city of Raqqa who attempt to call attention of the world to the horrors being inflicted upon them by ISIS. Even when they leave their home, these courageous chroniclers are not safe. It’s a truly sobering look at the human toll of religious fanaticism. July 7

Bronx Gothic

(Grasshopper) Okwui Okpokwasili. This is a documentary account of performance artist Okpokwasili and her preparation and execution of the riveting and controversial piece Bronx Gothic. Attempting to bring the plight of black women to audiences who don’t understand it, Okpokwasili put her own body on the line night after night to make the pain of the black woman real. July 12

500 Years

(Paladin) Pamela Yates. The Mayans built an amazing civilization on the Yucatan Peninsula. Their descendants however faced extraordinary deprivation under Guatemalan President Jose Luis Rios Montt. Against all odds, the Mayan people stood up against his tyranny and against the violence being inflicted upon him and brought the dictator to trial. This is the amazing story about how an ancient people found their voice again. July 12

Birthright: A War Story

(Abramorama) Civia Tamarkin. It is no secret that abortion is an explosive topic of conversation in our country. Many women thought their rights to choose were protected thanks to Roe v. Wade but it has become clear in this era of conservative activism that is no longer true. Draconian laws have been enacted at the state and local level that have become so intrusive into the lives and reproduction of women that even some conservatives are uncomfortable. This documentary exposes the human cost of the Right to Life and the hypocrisy behind it. July 14

Chasing Coral

(Netflix) Andrew Ackerman, Mark Eakin, Luiz A. Rocha, Joanie Kleypas. From the team that brought us the sobering melting ice cap documentary Chasing Ice comes this new film that looks at the coral reefs, a vital part of the ocean’s ecosystem. The world’s coral reefs have been dying at a terrifying rate, including the Great Barrier Reef, the oldest living thing on the planet. All hope is not lost but time is running out and action is required. July 14

Amnesia

(Film Movement) Marthe Keller, Max Riemett, Bruno Ganz, Corinna Kirchhoff. Master Director Barbet Schroeder brings us this tale of memory and loss. A DJ in a club called Amnesia in Ibiza is mesmerized by a lonely woman who comes to the club every night. He befriends her and as she slowly lets him in, she begins to reveal the past she has been trying to forget – only now she is trying to make peace with it. July 21

 Brigsby Bear

(Sony Classics) Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear. A strange and magical children’s television show, The Adventures of Brigsby Bear, has an audience of one – James. When the show ends abruptly, he finds that he cannot accept that his beloved show is gone. Therefore he decides to finish the show himself and maybe define himself in the process. It looks to have a bit of a Michel Gondry influence judging on the trailer. July 28