The high-stakes world of standardized testing may sound like a punchline, but that’s essentially the setup to Nattawut Poonpiriya’s NYAFF-opening Bad Genius. The film follows Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), a gifted student who enrolls at a prestigious high school despite her single father’s financial woes. After befriending Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), a charming but academically disinclined peer, and her boyfriend Pat, a rich kid focused on all the ease money can afford him, Lynn finds herself caught up in an increasingly expansive con to cheat the system and help her classmates ace their exams in a bid to get out from under her oppressive poverty. This narrative framework boasts most of Genius’s weaknesses, as the stock plot, rife with contrivance, and the various implausibilities are fairly obvious. What’s surprising is how confident Poonpiriya’s direction and strength of voice are, his impeccable technical craft elevating the film’s generic origins, and resulting in what is essentially a hyper-stylized ‘heist’ film. As we jump from one extended planning-and-execution sequence to the next, Bad Genius’s thrilling sensibilities continue to heighten its relatively negligible stakes (these are test scores, not diamonds), resulting in a film that feels far fresher and more exciting than its modest content would suggest at first blush.
Previously published as part of New York Asian Film Festival | Dispatch 1.