AUGUST 19 ― I’ve watched a lot of viral videos, been to plenty of viral makan places, and consumed all sorts of viral food, such is the age that we live in now.
Even after taking into account the remarkable variety of things that can go viral, it has never crossed my mind that a film can go viral.
With the exception of food and eateries, most of the stuff that do go viral nowadays became viral because of negative reasons. That’s how they spread so fast and so easily anyway ― because we love talking about and sharing bad stuff (and good food, of course).
When a film does spread in a positive but viral way, we usually call it good word-of-mouth instead of calling it viral.
But I think we now have a truly legit contender for a film that can be called viral, but in a good way, in Malaysia. In an ironic twist, that film is not a Malaysian but Thai film called Bad Genius.
What qualifies it as a viral film, you ask? For starters, it was initially distributed just like most other non-horror Thai films here in Malaysia ― it plays in only a few cinemas across Malaysia (probably in only two or three cinemas in the Klang Valley and with similarly small numbers in other states) and with a limited amount of showtimes too.
My attempt to see it on its second day of screening failed because there were only about four or five screening times in MidValley that day, probably in the smaller halls, which resulted in it being sold out pretty fast.
That alone shows that the distributor was not really expecting any big business, and maybe even expected it to play quietly in Malaysian cinemas before vanishing after just one week, like other fairly recent non-horror Thai films like May Who and the criminally under-seen and overlooked Heart Attack.
Then came a short review someone posted on Facebook which gave Bad Genius a hyperbolic 20 out of 10 rating, even comparing it very favourably with Dunkirk as one of the best films of the year so far, which then became viral as it was shared, picked up by and re-posted on a lot of websites that are kind of synonymous with viral things or making things viral.
So when I finally got a chance to see the film on its sixth day of release, which was on a Tuesday, I was quite shocked to see that the number of screenings had increased quite a bit, and even when there were screenings at 8.45pm and 9pm, both were jam packed and probably sold out.
Even at the office I overhear young people talking about the movie, and how they want to go and see it, and all this for a movie that doesn’t even have a trailer playing every few hours on TV in Malaysia.
It’s a bona fide viral sensation that became a fantastically good word-of-mouth phenomenon simply because it’s a damn good mainstream movie, yet it’s different from most of the stuff we’d associate with the mainstream.
The fact that it’s an Asian movie that not a lot of people have even heard of before makes it an even more attractive proposition.
As a film itself, I have nothing but praise for Thai studio GDH’s latest assembly line miracle.
If anything, GDH (formerly GTH, but dissolved in 2015 because of reported internal conflicts) is a fine example of a studio growing its brand but also not forgetting to nurture and grow its audience’s tastes as well.
It may have started riding the Asian horror wave (with films like Shutter, Alone and 4Bia) and then comfortably adapting the whole Korean rom-com formula with wonderful films like Hello Stranger, ATM and I Fine, Thank You, Love You, but you can also see it take a chance with an idiosyncratic indie director like Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit with Heart Attack, which was like a perfect marriage of commerce and personal film-making.
And when the studio resurfaced in 2016 as GDH with One Day, you can really see how the studio uses the trust that its audience places in its brand to stretch some more, to give the audience a piece of mainstream entertainment with a bit more personality and heart.
They’ve continued on that path with the hugely entertaining Bad Genius, about a group of teenagers who try to make a quick buck by constructing increasingly elaborate schemes to cheat during exams.
Those elaborate schemes will of course make Bad Genius part heist movie, and part teen movie, which provides the platform for plenty of heart stopping suspense set-pieces, all of them expertly executed by director Nattawut Poonpiriya, who’s armed with an arsenal of surprisingly simple visual techniques.
Mostly sticking with fixed or static shots (that are of course beautifully composed) and very elegantly edited for maximum impact, the only visual flight of fancy that he took was in one bravura set-piece involving an imaginary piano.
Other than that the shots are simple, the editing unfussy, but the whole thing is so gorgeously composed that the film is always beautiful to look at.
Smart enough to even throw in bits about the economic disparity and class divisions in Thai society for its audience to ponder about, Bad Genius is ultimately a wonderful example of a mainstream film done right.
I wish that Heart Attack, which was at least twice or three times a better film than this one, received as much attention as this back then. Maybe someone can make this viral so that people will seek that film out too?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.