What you need to know
On the night of graduation, three high school students share their most unspeakable secrets, which go way beyond their imagination.
Bad Education has become a popular title these past few years. Most such stories focus on how bad teachers lead their students astray. Bad Education, the 2022 directorial feature debut of Taiwanese actor Kai Ko (柯震東, last seen in Mama Boy of the same year), written by popular novelist-director Giddens Ko (九把刀), starts from the opposite end: What if the students are the amoral ones?
Babies are notoriously amoral little shits that develop a full set of morals only later in life. But if you cram kids into the same space for days on end with relatively loose supervision, that development isn’t guaranteed.
Meet Chang (Berant Zhu 朱軒洋), Han (Edison Song 宋柏緯), and Wang (Kent Tsai 蔡凡熙), three boys drinking on a rooftop the night of their high school graduation. Bad Education is the visually and tactilely disgusting tale (shot by Chen Ta Pu 陳大璞) of how these three are scarred for life by their belated encounter with a moral code. Its nighttime urban legend vibe is of a piece with Giddens Ko’s recent output.
Chang, the leader, has the Mephistophelean idea to solidify their bond of friendship by sharing their deepest, darkest secrets as a kind of blackmail pact. The film reenacts his story of luring and impregnating the mentally disabled daughter of the student guidance director who chews him out. Han, the enabler, follows this with a recounting of how he slaughters a houseless man’s dog and then the man himself in a kind of Augustinian temptation of sin, only to find himself feeling exactly the same as before.
The supporting characters in these sequences are depicted with total disregard for political sensitivity, indirectly revealing the crude mindset of the storytellers. The consequences of their actions are framed in terms of getting away with it, with very little pathos or compunction.
Then it’s Wang’s turn, but the lackey of the group comes up empty. So Chang, spying a gangster loitering on the street below, gets Wang to splash him with a can of paint and then smash his head with an empty beer bottle; Han eggs him on.
And yet, after Wang actually does it and they start running from the whole gang, Chang and Han profess to be joking about the whole thing. Har-har. Then Han gets caught, and Chang and Wang have to figure out how to save him while escaping retribution themselves.
The ad hoc picaresque that constitutes their “solution” involves stealing a taxi from under the nose of its driver as he’s in the back seat sexually assaulting a drunk sex worker (Chang Ning 張寗) who later wakes up mid-getaway to perform a cleansing ritual on the boys; running for help to a cop (Huang Hsin-yao 黃信堯) who turns out to subscribe to the same cynical worldview as the gangsters; and braving the cool and rational fury of the gangleader himself, Brother Hsing (a Luciferian turn by Leon Dai 戴立忍). Spoiler alert: All three make it out alive, but not without paying a price.
The film makes it clear that the boys have entirely themselves to blame. The price they pay at Brother Hsing’s is made steeper each time they try to weasel their way out of an un-weasel-out-able situation. Their authentically crude dialogue (a rarity in Taiwanese films in Mandarin) and all the morally bankrupt adults they encounter add up to a critique of the ramifying social ills of a failed moral education. The little shits of today grow up to be the big assholes of tomorrow.
The gangsters at least have a sense of responsibility. The film’s Chinese title (黑的教育, literally “black education”) is a pun, you see: Gangsters are known collectively as 黑道 (literally “black path”). As Brother Hsing admonishes when his cool façade finally disappears, “A bad man is still a man (做壞人也是做人)!” What a way to come of age.
Bad Education is in theaters. Read CJ’s festival review of the film here.
TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)
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