Credit: NYAFF/Bad Education
by Christopher Bourne Featured Film

Bad Education — Kai Ko [NYAFF ’23 Review]

July 25, 2023

“What is society’s ratio of good people to bad people?” This is the question a police officer puts to his partner at the beginning of Bad Education, Taiwanese actor Kai Ko’s directorial debut, written by Giddens Ko (who directed Kai Ko in his 2011 acting debut, You Are the Apple of My Eye, and was originally slated to direct this film). It’s an interesting question, one well worth exploring in depth. Unfortunately, Kai Ko and co. fail to accomplish this task in the space of a breezily paced, “one crazy night” romp that clocks in at a mere 77 minutes. In fact, that breeziness is a considerable part of the problem, with the moral questions posed never explored with more than surface-level depth. Combined with a flippantly casual approach to the subject of the sexual assault of women, one is left with a bad taste that lingers well after the closing credits. 

Bad Education opens on a rooftop where three high school friends, Chang (Berant Zhu), Han (Edison Song), and Wang (Kent Tsai), are boozing it up post-graduation. Chang proposes forging a lifelong bond between the three of them to offset their impending separation. Rejecting the idea of cutting themselves for a blood oath, Chang instead suggests that they each divulge their darkest secrets. Chang and Han then spin lurid tales involving Chang raping and impregnating the developmentally disabled daughter of a school official and Han murdering a homeless man. When Wang can only counter these shocking revelations with the feeble story of discovering his father’s affair, the other two spur him on to commit a crime of his own that night. This results in Chang and Han pushing Wang to attack a street gangster by splashing him with a can of paint and smashing his head with a beer bottle. Thus ensues the madcap chase that occupies the bulk of the film’s narrative, with the gangster’s crew in hot pursuit of the newly deviant boys.

Figuring prominently during this chase is the sexual assault of another woman, the barely drawn character of a party girl who is assaulted by her taxi driver — the same taxi commandeered by the boys in their attempt to evade the gangsters chasing them. This occasions the most egregiously offensive aspect of the film, wherein the scenes that come in the aftermath of the woman’s sexual assault are largely played for laughs, as she vomits on one of the boys and later drunkenly performs a religious ritual. This all culminates in a final act set in a seafood restaurant, where the wayward trio confronts a gang boss (actor-director Leon Dai) who gives them the titular “bad education” about actions and their consequences. 

There’s potential for this material to be rowdy but edifying entertainment exploring interesting moral and ethical issues, but instead, Bad Education only registers as a sourly cynical work, one that completely undercuts its moral dilemmas with the revelation early on that Chang and Han’s crime stories were totally made up. Kai Ko, for his part, proves to be a competent, if far from dazzling, director, aided by some nicely atmospheric cinematography courtesy of Chen Ta-pu. Alas, Bad Education ultimately proves to be disappointing at best and troubling at worst, and is far from the ideal showcase for its budding filmmaker’s talents.

Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2023.