Thai director Nattawut Poonpiriya turns exam cheating into box office hit Bad Genius

Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya (left), Bad Genius stars (above from left) Chanon Santinatornkul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Eisaya Hosuwan and Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying.
Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, Bad Genius stars (above from left) Chanon Santinatornkul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Eisaya Hosuwan and Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying.PHOTOS: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya (left), Bad Genius stars (above from left) Chanon Santinatornkul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Eisaya Hosuwan and Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying.
Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya (above), Bad Genius stars Chanon Santinatornkul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Eisaya Hosuwan and Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying.PHOTOS: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

Thai writer-director Nattawut Poonpiriya's latest film, Bad Genius, offers some truly creative methods to cheat in school examinations, but the 36-year-old insists he never cheated when he was a student.

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, he says via a translator: "It's not that I was too righteous or anything. It was because I was too much of a coward to do it. My family also never pressured me into studying hard to get good grades, so I never felt the need to cheat."

The film-maker, who has many years of experience directing commercials, has a master's degree in stage directing from Srinakharinwirot University's fine arts faculty.

In Bad Genius - his second feature after the thriller Countdown (2012) - a group of Thai high-school students comes up with all sorts of ways to cheat in their tests.

The students are led by Lynn, a straight-As student who makes money by cheating on the tests for her classmates. She is played by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, 21, a model making her acting debut.

The director is confident that he cast the right girl, despite her lack of experience.

He says: "My first impression of her was that she looked very close to the picture I had of Lynn in my head. But I became certain that she was the one when I saw her audition clip. She did a very great job. She gave a fresh and energetic quality to the character that was not in the script."

Thai audiences seem to agree. Reviews for her and the rest of the mostly newbie cast, such as Eisaya Hosuwan and Teeradon Supapunpinyo who play Lynn's friends, have been very positive, says the director.

Since the film opened in Thailand last month, it has also been well- received commercially, making over US$3.2 million (S$4.4 million) at the box office.

Among commercial Thai films, Bad Genius stands out as it is a caper and not the usual romantic comedy or horror movie. But the film-maker believes Thai films have something in common, regardless of the genre. 

"What I think Thai audiences find most important is the emotional connection. No matter what genre the movie is, if we are able to connect with the audiences, make them feel and care for the characters, they will enjoy it and be ready to open up to other movie genres we present to them," he says.

But is he not concerned that his film may lead to copycat behaviour? He says cryptically: "After seeing this movie, the audiences will be able to figure out the answer to this question themselves."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Bad Genius opens in cinemas tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'No cheat sheet for director'. Print Edition | Subscribe