The Asian educational system is quickly becoming known for producing very bright, very highly motivated students. That subject is right at the heart of Pluto, a film part of Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Korean strand.
The film opens with the death of Yujin, the brightest student in his year. Fingers quickly point to Yujin’s roommate, June, known by his peers to be jealous of Yujin’s intelligence and achievements. Most of the rest of the film is then told in flashbacks as we find out what caused the murder of Yujin and who was ultimately responsible.
The film has a darkly comic tone which reminded me in some ways of Jennifer’s Body. However, where as popularity and looks are the central currency in the high school depicted in that American film, it is intelligence and academic achievement that are most valued in this South Korean high school.
One of the film’s key plot points is the league table that each of the students is entered into. Every student wants to be in the Top Ten, since once there you get access to special facilities and students in the Top Ten do everything to help one another out and maintain their position.
The film paints of picture of a very uncompromising and pressurised education system which expects a lot from students academically, while apparently failing to meet their needs in other ways. It questions the need to make students so competitive, which seems to only lead to pupils literally stopping at nothing to get ahead of their peers.
It makes this point well, although its major fallback is not making us care enough about June and those around him. The final scene which sees a face off between June and those who have accused him of the murder of Yujin went on too long for me, and lacked the tension such a scene should be able to maintain. In going for this darkly comic tone, I felt the characters descended into caricature far too quickly, meaning an important scene like this fails to land.
It is a shame since the film looks beautiful, is otherwise well structured and for the most part I enjoyed the balance it struck between humour and darkness. In that sense it also reminded me of Battle Royale.
However, perhaps the key difference is Battle Royale knew to include characters we actually cared about in amongst its satirical carnage. It’s a shame Pluto is a film that doesn’t quite make the grade.