High schoolers don’t necessarily have a full sense of the whole world, and their decisions may reflect the lack of gravity they perceive their actions to have. A prank or practical joke may seem harmless enough, yet they can’t comprehend the real-world, lasting implications that can result from something fleeting and effortless. Bad Education takes audiences down a dark path as a group of three friends quickly learns how their universe isn’t as small as they think on one unforgettable night of fun that leads to irreversible changes for all of them.
Wang (Kent Tsai), Chang (Berant Zhu), and Han (Edison Song) drink one night on a roof following their high school graduation and reminisce about all the things they’ve been through together. When one suggests that they each share a long-hidden secret, tales of murder and rape emerge all too easily. When the third among them doesn’t have anything illicit to share, he is egged on to do something dangerous for the others’ amusement. While he initially fails to follow through, his spur-of-the-moment choice to complete his challenge sends the friends running for their lives when they realize that their target is far from amused by their fun and games.
This Taiwanese film shares its title with a number of other projects, including Pedro Almodóvar’s 2004 film, the 2019 TV movie starring Hugh Jackman, and the long-running BBC sitcom, all of which are quite different in nature. Its clearest meaning may be to signal its characters’ lack of preparation for the world, educated in a traditional manner through high school yet unaware of how they must function when detention or suspension are not the most severe punishments they might endure. Removed from the classroom setting, the lies they tell and the dares they casually hurl at each other are not just stories or taunts but have the potential for devastating consequences.
Actor Kai Ko makes his directorial debut with this film, which runs just seventy-five minutes yet still manages to feel like an eternity when it wants to, trapping audiences with its three protagonists as they encounter misfortune of their own doing. The confessions its characters make early on are recreated through detailed flashbacks, which give them an air of authenticity even though they are soon revealed to be fabricated as a way to compel the innocent among them to feel that he has something to prove. The content of their invented misdeeds is indeed gruesome, a grim preview of the fate that is to befall these three hapless friends as they mess with the wrong people.
Bad Education moves at a feverish pace, getting started with its inciting event and then following its characters through a state that moves from dreamlike to nightmarish. There is an eerie calm to the villains they encounter, namely Mr. Hsing (Leon Dai), that indicates that he has been waiting for such an opportunity to indulge in a bout of purposeful vengeance, and these three are the miserable souls who have wandered into his orbit to suffer. This is not a film for the faint of heart, with a startling amount of violence to be found that feels all too natural in its execution, carried out to drive home a point that these young people – and audiences by extension – will not soon forget. It’s a disturbing, unsettling experience, but one that has plenty to say about the nature of people and the ability of the universe to even things out one way or another.
Bad Education makes its North American Premiere at the 22nd New York Asian Film Festival.