By Diana Cheng
Asian American Press
The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Subway Cinema will present the sixteenth edition of the NYAFF from June 30 to July 13 at the Film Society and July 14 to 16 at the SVA Theatre. This year, the Festival will showcase 57 films of various genres from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.
The Opening Gala is the International Premiere of Thailand’s “Bad Genius” directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya. Appearing with the director is the star of the film Chutimon “Aokbab” Chuengcharoensukying, a 21 year-old model and Thai University student, who will receive the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award at the Festival.
To say “Bad Genius” is a high-school thriller is undermining its significance and genre-bending effect. Top scholarship student Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) in a prestigious high school heading straight to any top university abroad gets sidetracked as she immerses in helping her fellow students with their exams, not so much as a tutor but a schemer. The way she does it is quite ingenious, nothing short of brilliant. Some elements of fantasy are mixed in, but they only add in the fun and entertainment value. “Bad Genius” is a wild concoction of realistic drama, suspense thriller and fantasy.
The small-scale high school cheating scheme soon is expanded. Together with another top student Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), Lynn masterminds and carries out a major heist at the international STIC exam, SAT for Asian students. With the scheme, they will add millions of Thai baht in their bank accounts, making way for their own exit strategy to study abroad.
Getting a high score on STIC is the only route to pursue college entrance into the United States, the highest goal for Asian high school students. The heat on the pressure cooker of academic achievement is turned up a few notches when it comes to taking the STIC.
The assets of the film are naturally the fresh, young faces of the cast. While many are first time actors–true also for the Rising Star Award recipient Chuengcharoensukying — their performances are nuanced and apt. Director Poonpiriya’s storytelling is fast-paced with agile camera works and seamless editing. Never had I imagined that watching high school students write their tests can be such a suspenseful and thrilling experience.
I’m sure it’s not Poonpiriya’s intension to have us root for the cheaters, but “Bad Genius” effectively brings out the human and social context of many Asian countries. The rich can find their ways to study abroad, but for those who struggle at the poverty line, and there are many, they solely depend on brains. “Bad Genius” poses moral scenarios that are not far-fetched. Dealing with realistic issues by taking us on a fantastic joyride could well be the winning asset of the film.
“Bad Genius” opens the NYAFF on Friday, June 30 at 7 p.m. Director Poonpiriya and his two stars will be in attendance. Go to the NYAFF website for more details.