GDH 559 in push abroad as 'Bad Genius' wows China

'Bad Genius', a story about a team of smart teenagers raking in millions from an exam-cheating ring they set up, was a box office hit in China.

Film studio GDH 559 is ramping up its international market push, notably for China, following the success of its high-school thriller Chalard Game Goeng (Bad Genius) there, hauling in over US$16 million (528 million baht) on its opening weekend.

Chief executive Jina Osothsilp said GDH over the past two years has been pushing Thai films to screens abroad, especially in Southeast Asia in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, to great acclaim.

The films shown abroad were mostly horrors and thrillers, genres seen as having universal content. But the company has recently been trying to push out comedies and local thrillers such as the successful Bad Genius, a story about a team of smart teenagers raking in millions from an exam-cheating ring they set up, as another step of raising the popularity of Thai films.

Ms Jina said demand for Thai films in the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) market is also growing as the local promoter and Major Cineplex Group have had them dubbed and shown with subtitles.

Ms Jina said the Chinese market is very difficult and has many complicated rules governing the cinema screening of a foreign film. Bad Genius, GDH's first film in China, managed to overcome the obstacles because it was exclusively brought in by the big Chinese film company Hengye Pictures, and the storyline has a hidden message about corruption on a national scale.

"Screening Thai movies in China is the most challenging job for GDH and another production house as the government's policy doesn't allow movies with violence, sexuality, ghosts and especially corruption-related plots."

She said the success of Bad Genius in China offers solid proof that Thai filmmakers are still capable of generating excitement on the international market.

According to Ms Jina, from early 2000s until now, GDH's predecessor, GMM Tai Hub (GTH), helped develop the local film business and took many Thai films to screen abroad such as Stree-Lek (The Iron Ladies), Ong-Bak (martial arts starring Tony Jaa) and Shutter (a ghost film).

GDH 559 was established in early 2016 by Hub Ho Hin Bangkok Co and SET-listed GMM Grammy Plc after GTH -- Thailand's most successful film studio for more than a decade -- was dissolved in December 2015 due to internal conflicts between its three major shareholder, GMM Grammy, Tai Entertainment and Hub Ho Hin.

When GTH president Visute Poolvoralaks left, GMM Grammy and Hub Ho Hin rejoined to create GDH 559, which inherited almost all of GTH's creative personnel and resources. The name is said to stand for "Gross Domestic Happiness", and the numbers refer to the date and year the company was founded.

Bad Genius is its third release.

GDH has 150 million baht in registered capital. It has 59 shareholders, with GMM Grammy holding a majority stake of 51% and Hub Ho Hin having 15%.

The distribution rights to Bad Genius has been sold to 18 countries, including China, to be dubbed and subtitled. Japan and New Zealand are due to screen it soon.

Ms Jina is optimistic that China could potentially offer a huge market for Thai films. She said Hengye Pictures' expenditure of more than 200 million baht to promote Bad Genius in China was more than made up by the 1.3 billion baht revenue it made from screening the film at 7,000 cinemas nationwide. In Thailand, Bad Genius was shown at only 216 locations.

Ms Jina said Thailand's film industry is declining, and she must turn to the overseas market to ensure a stable revenue.

She said a 100-million baht box office for a Thai film is very hard to achieve these days because of competition from video streaming, even though she believes watching a film at home is not quite the same as going to the cinema.

Ms Jina said she sees the Thai film industry as cooperation not competition because she wants the films to to be popular among international community.

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