BAD GENIUS. Thailand, 2017. Starring Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Eisaya Hosuwan. Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya. 130 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language).
Not exactly an enticing title. On the other hand, there is the curiosity factor: who is the genius? And how bad?
The curiosity factor might even be raised higher when it is revealed at the beginning of the film that the genius is a girl in her early teens. We see her at the age of 12 and follow her throughout her school years.
The film is cheating, youngsters and exams. (And it is very depressing to realise that most of these students lack the moral fibre that would actually give them pause or notice any challenge to their consciences on cheating.)
The other curiosity item is that this is a film from Thailand – but, local interest, some of the sequences were filmed in Sydney.
Lynn is a mathematical genius. When her father tries to enrol her in a better school, she does all the financial calculations in her head (and they are listed on the screen for our slower benefit!). She is offered a scholarship, a special grant for meals… She is a winner.
Over the years at school, she befriends a perennially smiling and agreeable friend, Grace. Grace is not too good at studies, does get help from Lynn but relies on her in an exam, cheating. Grace has a boyfriend at school, Pat, who fancies himself as a matinee idol, and comes from a very wealthy family. Because his parents think that Grace is a good influence, they suggest that they will finance her going to Boston where they want him to be educated. Pat has even less academic prowess than Grace.
In the Gospels, specifically in St Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the shrewd steward who is dismissed by his owners but before leaving employ, he contacts all the debtors and connives with them to alter their contracts and lessen their debt. Jesus remarks how amazing this is to observe. And that is what happens here. We watch amazed at the audacity. Lynn devises a way to communicate in the exam room with fellow students, who would become clients and pay substantial money, what the options are in a multiple-choice test. She has four melodies and taps these on her own desk as the others listen and fill in their answers.
She becomes even more ambitious with even more clients in a scheme for an international exam, held all around the world at the same hour in each country. The realisation is that with Sydney four hours ahead of Bangkok, if she and a friend who is forced to collaborate with her do the exam in Australia and find a way of communicating the results, the huge squad (many of them sitting on bikes waiting the answers before they take off for the exam centres) will all get top marks.
There is some tension in the Sydney sequences in how she and her friend deal with the exams, getting out during the breaks, getting their mobile phones, remembering the answers, getting them to Thailand where they are eagerly awaited. Things don’t go quite as well as planned which makes this part of the film even more interesting.
There is a moral dilemma presented at the end. Will she confess, will she take responsibility, is all this worth it?
Cine Asia Released November 9th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.