Hong Kong International Film Festival

Bad Genius star shocked at sudden rise to fame – but she is ready to take her acting career to the next level

Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying began modelling at 15 years old and made her film debut in the entertaining Thai high-school caper about exam cheating. Now she is determined to break into more serious roles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 5:32pm

How popular are Thai movies in Hong Kong? The answer would seem to be “not very”, judging by the fact that, despite a loyal following for Thai imports in the action and horror genres, The Iron Ladies – a film from 2000 based on the true story about a male volleyball team made up of gay men and transsexuals – had remained the highest-grossing Thai film in Hong Kong for 17 years.

On August 31 last year, that wacky underdog comedy’s unlikely HK$15.25 million record was finally surpassed by Bad Genius, an entertaining high school caper about exam cheating. Since then, the film has gone on to work box office magic in Asian regions that include Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as Taiwan and China.

Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, Bad Genius follows a quartet of high school students – Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) and Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) – as they devise a sophisticated exam cheating scheme for profit.

Film review: Bad Genius – exam cheating meets heist caper in thrilling Thai crowd-pleaser

The crowd-pleasing movie has certainly struck a chord with Hong Kong’s younger audiences with its attractive cast, vibrant storytelling, and an obsession with public exam systems that would feel very familiar to local viewers.

Apart from drawing our attention back to a national cinema which once indulged viewers with exhilarating Tony Jaa action spectacles and some true terrifying ghost movies in the noughties, Bad Genius has also turned its leading lady, the 22-year-old model-actress Chutimon(nicknamed “Aokbab”), into one of the most recognisable young stars in the region.

“Almost everything came as a surprise,” she tells The Post via a translator in an interview in Macau, where she won the best newcomer prize at the 12th Asian Film Awards. It was the latest in a long line of accolades that have come Chuengcharoensukying’s way since Bad Genius’s release in Thailand last May, starting with a rising star award at the New York Asian Film Festival in the following month.

“I have more followers now, and more people know who I am – not just in Hong Kong but also around Asia,” says Chuengcharoensukying, who began modelling at age 15 and made her feature film debut with Bad Genius. “The fact that there are fans out there who care a lot about me is also something that I didn’t expect. All these arrived with the success of the film, and I’m really thankful for that.”

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So can we expect a Bad Genius sequel? “If there’s one, I haven’t been notified yet,” she says. “The director hasn’t said that there is one – but even if I knew that there is, it’s possible that I wouldn’t be able to share the news just yet. I’ll say for now that there isn’t one.”

Regardless of the fate of her straight-A student character Lynn, Chutimonadmits there is increased pressure on her to perform after the success of her own feature film debut. “I’ll be more serious in picking characters from now on,” she explains.

“I need to better evaluate whether I can play certain roles. It’s true that I’m concerned about my own performances, and it’s a huge pressure to live up to my first film. So I really need to find characters that I can properly portray. I’ll definitely do my best.”

For her follow-up effort, Chutimoncouldn’t have picked a more different film. Die Tomorrow, directed by Heart Attack’s Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit and featuring a predominately young ensemble cast, is a little art-house gem which blends fiction and documentary, serving up a series of vignettes that wryly meditate on mortality through its characters’ final moments.

The film also reunites the actress and director pair, after she starred in his popular short film, Thank You for Sharing, in 2016. “This is an entirely different experience from Bad Genius,” she says.

“My scenes were done in long, unbroken takes. If someone said something wrong in the middle, we had to start over from the beginning again. So this is a lot more difficult [than Bad Genius], and it’s hard to forget the experience of doing multiple takes for this film.”

Chuengcharoensukying’s next acting project will be for a Thai television series, a backstage drama about love and friendship that is inspired by real-life experiences. “We’ll start shooting in two months,” she says. “But I’m not yet sure whether it will ever show in Hong Kong, or if there’ll be a subtitled version for overseas.”

Now that she has laid down the groundwork for an acting career, Chutimonalso allows herself to dream a little bigger than before. “My greatest hope is to be like the Hollywood actors – in the sense that they get to play all these crazy characters,” she says with a big smile, apparently referring to mentally insane characters.

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“I really want to play those roles. When you watch their movies, you are almost convinced that they’re actually mad. I want to play that kind of characters, and I want to be as good as the Hollywood actors [in those parts]. That is my ultimate goal as an actress.”

Die Tomorrow will be screened on March 30 at Grand Kornhill Cinema, in Quarry Bay, as part of Hong Kong International Film Festival

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