The Taiwanese film Bad Genius is no doubt the sleeper foreign hit of the 37th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival presented by Halekulani. Imagine if Super Bad met Oceans 11, and you have what is definitely, for me, the most highly-entertaining piece of Asian cinema in quite some time.
Bad Genius centers itself around a girl named Lynn, who through surrounding circumstances becomes a mastermind behind an exam-cheating ring. The film starts small, as all crime films do, and eventually the group of friends go from cheating in the classroom to cheating on tests taken internationally, and even sending answers across entire continents. The first half of the film follows conventions of any typical crime film, but soon transforms into a thriller-heist, complete with meticulous planning, backstabbing, high tension, and surprising twists.
This is indicative of the expert-level writing at work here, which utilizes the best aspects of the thriller, heist, and crime genres. Plainly speaking, Bad Genius will have you on the edge of your seat more than a few times throughout the over two hour runtime, which never felt wasted. The film is very funny, too, and this is only possible due to the invaluable talent of the performers involved.
The music, composed by Vichaya Vatanasapt, draws inspiration from many different genres, as the film is also a melting pot of generic conventions. Sometimes the music resembles the music from such 80’s classics as Blade Runner, yet shifts (as the film shifts tones) to the frantic music one might find in films like Dunkirk, representing the constant passage of time and the inching of our characters closer and closer to deadlines.
The acting is some of the best I have ever seen in Asian cinema, and this is a feat made even more impressive by the fact that the film’s starring actress, played miraculously by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, has never acted in a feature film before Bad Genius. This is perhaps the greatest debut for a young actress since Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. If you do not believe that she could really be that good, I suggest you see the film for yourself. It is quite the ride, and one that audiences will not soon forget.