MOVIE REVIEW: BAD GENIUS (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Bad Genius:

1. One of the lowest points in my high school life (or even my life in general) was when I got caught cheating (along with three other classmates) in an exam. It was quite the scandal because we were part of the Honors Class (or as one of our teachers called us, “the Cream of the Crop, pweh!”). Unlike this film though, that incident didn’t involve an elaborate set-up, high stakes, huge amounts of money, or even a hidden kodigo written on an eraser. On my end (the others had reasons of their own), I just matter-of-factly checked with another classmate if we had the same answer on a specific item of a crossword-type quiz. Unfortunately for us, one of the moral guardians (aka chu-chu) in class informed our teacher about it.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why we had to be severely punished for something that (to me) didn’t really constitute cheating. We were even asked to stand in front of the class, very much like modern-day adulterers on trial (kulang na lang meron kami cardboard sa leeg stating “Mandaraya! Wag tularan!”) challenging the crowd to cast the first stone (ironically, some of our classmates that did throw stones and reminded everyone on the importance of good values were the ones that blatantly cheated in exams but were never caught; more on this later).

Anyway, we were reprimanded with a failed score in that test, a C- in Conduct, and our Catholic souls promptly delivered to the devil for eternal damnation. Suffice to say, I fully learned from that experience and never cheated my way through an exam ever again.

2. When I initially saw this film several months back, it functioned as an effective thriller about students scamming their way in a national exam. Even to this day, I would have these nightmares resulting to cold sweats for not knowing the answers to a random multiple choice exam and it was probably the closest feeling that could describe this viewing experience. Every sequence that involved flinging shoes, two sets of exams, piano codes, and hidden cellphones in the toilet had the same level of excitement slash anxiety as any heist flick directed by Steven Soderbergh or Edgar Wright.

A second viewing though revealed a much deeper take on morality; how seemingly righteous people could be swayed into the dark side and how perfectly flawed characters could find redemption. The juxtaposition of Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, in a stunning film debut) and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) spoke volumes on how external factors (social inequality, intelligence as a form of power, capital-driven labor system, among others) could ultimately define/shape a person’s morals/values. That bridge scene where they stood above the stop and go signals was simply, well, genius.

3. Although I was impressed with how the piano lessons were incorporated into the cheating scheme (the highlight was when Lynn used the same method to memorize all the STIC answers), I found it hard to believe that her intellectually-impaired classmates could keep up with her fast-moving fingers (and even had to “transmit” answers the same way to the rest of the group). Surely there must have been easier gestures/signals that they could have utilized instead.

Going back to my morally upright classmates that I mentioned earlier, one of the techniques that they used to memorize the correct answers was the folding of their fingers. We would usually have these short quizzes that consisted of ten True or False questions and what they would do was fold every finger that corresponded to every False answer (based on the leakage of their friends that took the test before us). While our teachers thought that they were just fooling around and making alien-like gestures, everything was set for them to get perfect scores. Except of course in long quizzes and finals when they would lack enough digits (toes included) to fold for a 100-item exam.

4. I really liked how the story utilized the infinite reflections whenever Lynn was faced with a moral dilemma (the opening interrogation, the escalator scene before agreeing on the STIC scheme, and her final application on her chosen college). Nothing screamed introspection more than a character looking at all her possible identities in a mirror.

5. For a film burdened with such serious themes, the occasional stabs at humor helped keep it a bit lighthearted. I had a good laugh at the following: 1) when Lynn’s father brought a box of her trophies and medals when they were talking to the headmistress (probably something that my mother would also do), 2) when everyone who answered set 1 stood up at the same time to submit their papers, 3) when someone referred to Pat (Teeradon Supaponpinyo) wearing a turtleneck and giving a rousing speech as Steve Pat, and 4) weirdly enough, when Lynn held her pencil like a weapon before heading to the STIC exam room.

On the flip side, I couldn’t hold back my tears during these scenes: 1) when Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) mentioned “If I had half your brain, I wouldn’t do something this stupid”, 2) when Bank gave Lynn a nod during his interrogation scene before realizing that he was on his own, 3) when Lynn went all Teddie Salazar in the airport and confessed everything to her father, and 4) the subsequent waiting hall scene with him assuring her that “We’ll get through this”. You’re not crying, I am.

6. The weakest aspect here that really strained credulity was the extended chase scene with Lynn after she threw up on her test (why didn’t anyone even hear her gagging in the first place?). When her phone started getting kicked around and Pat and Grace lost their phone’s signal, it was just too many coincidences happening to be believable. Even if you dismissed the fact that she was being chased by the Terminator, did she really have to drop that phone in a stranger’s bag? How would that be considered a clean trail? Seriously, these amateurs should have consulted my morally upright classmates.

7. “Even if you don’t cheat, life cheats you anyway.”

a) True
b) False
c) Saklap besh

Rating: ★★★★☆