Bad genius

It’s always a thrill — despite being morally wrong — to cheat on an exam.

Nattawut ‘Baz’ Poonpiriya. Photo: MELALIN MAHAVONGTRAKUL

Everyone is afraid to get caught, but the temptation to score high is most times impossible to resist. We hide tiny notes, scribble on an eraser or send hand signals from across the hall to obtain the answers we need.

For a group of teens in GDH’s latest release Chalard Games Goeng (Bad Genius), they fly across the world to bring home that 4.0 GPA — plus millions of baht in profit — by making the difference in time zones benefit their elaborate scheme.

Chalard Games Goeng revolves around a secondary school prodigy Lynn (newcomer Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) who builds up a small fortune by giving exam answers to her friends Grace and Pat (Eisaya Hosuwan and Teeradon Supapunpinyo) and their classmates. In order to pass an international test that would pave the road to major universities in the US, the team devises a plan for Lynn to sit an exam in Sydney, three hours ahead of Bangkok, and send back her answers. To make sure the plan works, Lynn recruits Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), another straight-A genius and her rival, to aid her on this cross-continent cheating mission.

Education is a business and so is cheating, according to director Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya. In Thailand, various exam frauds have made headlines over the years. In January, a group of medical students were hired to sit the national police exam to help spread the answers to their clients.

Last year, a scandal broke when students were caught wearing high-tech glasses with embedded cameras to capture the exam paper and send the questions to their answer crew. Correct answers were then sent back and received on smartwatches — an act straight out of a spy movie plot.

“Cheating on an exam is not right, morally speaking. An exam is something you should be doing by yourself, alone,” said the 36-year-old filmmaker. “However, we live in a world where the line of morality is blurred. There’s nothing all black or white, but rather grey. There are certain things we know are wrong, yet we still do it because others do it, too — much like driving on footpaths, taxi drivers refusing passengers or cheating on exams. This is a question we ask in the film, too. How do you handle this issue and what sort of stance do you take, when you live in this kind of grey society?”

Since the trailer’s release a few weeks ago and up until the release of the film, Chalard Games Goeng has garnered public interest with its distinct style and unique plot. At the same time, people are asking if the film encourages students to cheat — or actually to cheat more than they already do.

Nattawut admitted that with how the story is depicted, it’s not strange to come to this conclusion.

“But after people watch the film, it will answer everything as to what the purpose of the film is. I have my own reasons as to why I make each film and I have a message I want to tell. I hope the movie will answer for itself, in the end.”

The idea of making a film about cheating in different time zones was Jira Malikool and Vanridee Pongsittisak’s, producers at GDH. Once the idea was thrown at him, Nattawut was instantly hooked.

“I feel there’s a strong potential for us to do something about it. And soon images started to develop in my head. I can see a group of students on a mission and it reminded me of Hollywood heist films like Ocean Eleven and spy thrillers,” he said.

It took Nattawut more than a year to develop the script, which may seem long, but the director said it’s standard for any project at GDH.

“Keng [Jira Malikool, producer and filmmaker at GDH] has always taught us that the script is like a plan of the house. If the blueprint is not strong, we can never build a strong house.”

“It’s also a kind of investment that costs the least. You only need pencils, papers or a computer,” he added.

One of the challenges Nattawut faced while developing his story was to keep it aground and rooted within the context of Thai culture.

“I know I want to do a heist film, like the Ocean series — ones that can thrill people and really pull them in. But then the question is how are we going to make it so that it would retain a flavour distinctive to Thailand, with Thai-style characters that aren’t overacting or fantasy. The storytelling style has to be based on something Thai people can relate to and that required effort.”

Nattawut is known for his creativity and refreshing style in his directorial works, which include music videos, short films, viral ads, as well as the 2012 thriller Countdown — a horrific encounter between three teens and a drug dealer on New Year’s Eve in New York. The film, also his first feature, earned 26 million baht at the Thai box office and won Best Screenplay at the Supannahong Awards.

From Countdown to Chalard Games Goeng, audiences have been welcoming of the flair and thrills Nattawut has offered to the Thai cinema. It’s not too often that we see a Thai film that doesn’t revolve around the usual slapstick comedy, haunted spirits and sappy romance. Still, Nattawut said it was never his intention to revolutionise the industry.

“If I could choose, I’d want to work on a love story, too,” he laughed. “But I guess it has to do with a director’s style and identity in filmmaking. To me, filmmaking is about working with a topic that matters and it can’t be just anything because you have to eat, sleep and live with it for one to two years. It takes a long time to find the right idea and you have to give it your best every step of the way.”

The filmmaker did not comment when asked if he thought the Thai film industry has diversity in content. He, however, suggested that diversity depends on opportunity, time, style and the identity of each director.

“I think it has to do with the amount of people we have, too. In Hollywood, they have 100 more people than we do, which means they have more individual identities. The works that come out are more diversified, even due to the numbers alone,” he commented.

“But while Thailand may have less people, I think we’re seeing an increasing diversity in style and content in these past few years — especially now that independent filmmaking is becoming easier to achieve. There are more opportunities to get the necessary budget and tools. People’s skills and talents are improving. I hope this would eventually provide more choices for cinemagoers in the future.

“We’re developing ourselves to reach that point and everyone must remain hopeful. Don’t give up on the Thai film industry and Thai filmmakers just yet because we’re not giving up either.”

Chalard Games Goeng (Bad Genius), directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, starring Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Chanon Santinatornkul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo and Eisaya Hosuwan is screening in cinemas nationwide. Visit www.facebook.com/ChalardGamesGoeng.