We’ve all witnessed it, whether on the news at an extreme scale, in our schools or workplaces, and may have been a victim or an instigator at some point. Bullying is a social sticking point, something that floats in and out of our peripheral vision, whether we acknowledge it or not. Director Shin Su-Won pulls the matter into focus in dark, twisted thriller Pluto, comparing the ‘loser’ planet deemed no longer fit for the solar system, to a newly transferred student at an elitist boarding school. This story however, explores the horrifying lengths students will go to, to be on top in an unforgivingly competitive environment.
June Kim is a newly transferred student at Se Yung High having made the top 1% at his old school. On arriving, he’s assigned to board with Yujin Taylor the leader of an exclusive clique, comprised of the top ten students in the school. Desperate to be accepted and be guaranteed a spot at prestigious Seoul University, June becomes the group’s plaything, as they force him into increasingly violent and spiteful ‘missions’ in return for secret exam notes and study books. When a student is found murdered on school grounds, detectives find themselves unravelling a web of lies and self-destruction, with June the centre of suspicion.
Pluto is intriguing and complex, it’s hard to believe something as innocent as wanting good grades to make something of yourself, could be the subject of such terrifying outcomes. That desire is pushed to boiling point when placed in a high pressure environment of pushy parents and an educational system which offers the best opportunities to a tiny slice of a huge population, upping the difficulty stakes. There are a range of topics which are well analysed in this film, leaving conclusions open to the viewer to mull over. The most in depth being the human condition, social justice and the wealth/class divide.
David Lee plays quiet, withdrawn, easily manipulated June, who has a great fascination and skill for science. Whilst Lee did a good job with the character, his performance seemed to lack heart, leaving it unconvincing and a little lack lustre. Model turned actor Sung-joon Bang however, is completely captivating as the charismatic, tormented Yujin, really nailing the struggle between his conscience and the desire to exact revenge against his abusive father. Kim Kko-bbi also stood out as Sujin Jung, June’s only real friend. Kko-bbi injects a lot of vibrancy and fire into the role, with her character’s strong sense of justice and nonchalant attitude quite likeable. She also seems to be the most level headed of the lot, unwilling to be pulled into the dangerous games being played (and finding herself an unwitting target in the process).
A word of warning, this tale is not for those with a weak disposition. It’s pretty graphic with a lot of brutal aggression, as well as implied sexual assault. This makes it disturbing and a little bit nauseating to watch at times, as maximum impact is gained not from fictional horror, but the realisation of the human psyche escalating out of control. The fact that the school’s buildings previously housed Korean CIA (complete with hidden torture chamber) and there’s a symbolic solar eclipse on the cards adds to the spooky factor. However, audiences shouldn’t shy away from this hauntingly beautiful eye opener of a film. It’s a great example of Korean film making at its best, unflinching, intense and thought provoking.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 107 minutes (w/English Subtitles)
Pluto screened as part of KOFFIA Melbourne 2013, where it was reviewed. This review was originally published on 2nd September 2013. Please visit www.koffia.com.au for more details.