Hypothesizing an American “Bad Genius”
Inspired by reporting that testing scores were canceled following cheating scandals, Bad Genius is a film that brings the energy of a typical heist film and puts it into the mundane task of test-taking. Thai filmmaker Nattawut Poonpiriya’s story follows Lynn, a well-mannered and academically gifted girl who goes down the road of using her genius for more unsavory means. She is pulled into helping her friend cheat on a regular test, but quickly her craft and skill take over and she helps to engineer a cheating scheme that will give all of her classmates perfect scores on the standardized test for university admissions, while making millions of baht (Thai currency) along the way. The story of a young genius going against the autocratic education system has universal appeal, and Bad Genius’ characters tell the story with great authenticity, which is why it is so frustrating to see that it may be next in the trend of soulless American remakes of Asian films.
Lynn is played by Chutimon Chuengcharoenskuying, and though this is her and most of her castmates first feature roles, their performances are genuine and give everything to their characters. As a result, the film is given more credence and is made more compelling as the dynamic shots and film composition are filled with characters that are believable. Critics have lauded the film’s innovation, pace, performances, and editing, and they all work in harmony to turn what could otherwise be a made-for-TV movie into something that rivals Oceans 11 (2001). The story is straightforward, but it is a rollercoaster. Viewers can see that twists and turns are coming, but it does not lessen their impact in the slightest. Bad Genius has such great velocity in its action and tension is imbued in every camera movement, but at the same time you are given those small, more personal moments to feel the authenticity and hear that the actors convey in their performances. The film was extremely successful in Thailand and showed a higher level of success overseas than some of its other Thai counterparts, and one of the reasons that this can be attributed to is the shared experience of test-taking and the anxiety that comes with it, not just for your score, but how it may dictate your future. This is made much more real as all of the actors in the film are age appropriate, helping to make the film more convincing than other films that have adults play students such as The Perfect Score (2004), a movie with a similar presence to Bad Genius. It was reported that there was “considerable room” for improvisation for the actors to provide input and test the waters of what is not in the script, and it is evidenced by their truly spirited performances where other films centering on student have them be much more restrained. This extended beyond just the students though, as the role of Lynn’s father was made much more earnest with his input, and instead of their father-daughter relationship being defined by their conflict, it is characterized by their trust and respect for each other. At the heart of the film, there is also a general critique of the Thai education system and the social inequality that underlies it. That struggle and the uncertainty that the future brings is a universal story, which is part of the reason why this film has gotten a lot of the reception that it has seen thus far. The question still remains though, should it be remade in America?
The Wave of Remakes
The United States, more specifically Hollywood, has a long history of remaking ideas from overseas and Americanizing them, and there has been a mixture of success over the years, but the recent trend is not in their favor. The 1950s and 1960s saw different remakes of multiple Akira Kurosawa films, Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961). The remakes, The Magnificent Seven (1960) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964), would be great critical and box office successes and would help define the western genre in the United States. In the years since films like this though, there has been much more Westernization happening in these remakes, and there has been an overall decrease in critical and commercial success.
The 1990s and 2000s in East Asia saw a wave of successful horror films, The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004). With streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, there is a great access to different media texts from across the world and Hollywood has tried to take advantage of this by acquiring the rights to many beloved overseas properties. Instead of not making money on this trend by producing original but similar media texts, they would rather go with guaranteed money makers. One of the Ghost in the Shell (2017) which saw Scarlett Johansson play the titular role. There is a great trend of whitewashing these Asian properties, and beyond just using white actors to tell these stories, these remakes overlook the central core and themes at the heart of these stories. These stories were originally creative endeavors from filmmakers to tell unique and original stories, but Hollywood and American remakes are more interested in the established audiences and the dollar signs that come with them, and a remake of Bad Genius would be no different.
There have been talks of remaking the film in America since its initial release with reports of different production companies acquiring the rights, but so far there has been no public statement about a remake since 2019, signaling that for now the remake may have been dropped. In the meantime there have been remakes of more successful texts like the Snowpiercer television series and the planned Parasite series, both based on Korean films from filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho. Though Bad Genius has a story that has proved relatability from different cultures around the world, a lot of that may be lost in a Hollwood remake that has no real drive or originality behind its creation. Rather than unknown actors building the film from the ground up with improvisation and collaboration, there would be familiar faces used that are meant to carry the film through their reputation alone, seen in Spike Lee’s Oldboy (2013) with Josh Brolin or The Lake House (2006). In this case, there would be an established sense of familiarity with the characters and the world and they can quickly move past the slower moments of development and simplify conflict, losing what makes the original films so complicated and compelling in the first place. In today’s world where media is so accessible, media texts that reflect and contribute to a culture like Bad Genius did should be shared far and wide and appreciated instead of appropriated. It could introduce the public more to the original stories, but in the long run it would be doing the original text, the filmmakers, and cast behind it a disservice.