Shin Su-won’s 2012 movie Pluto (명왕성) has been airing at film festivals around the UK this year, appearing at both the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF). I managed to catch a screening of the movie at the EIFF earlier this year, and it’s immediately gone on my list of favourite movies.
Pluto is follows the story of June (Lee Da-wit), a new transfer student at an elite school. Unlike the many of the other students there, June isn’t rich and is found odd by other students for his quiet ways and love of astrology. The first year’s exam results turn out a surprise to June, as he is dealt grades that don’t match his intelligence. Driven to despair, he tries his best to raise his grades, to no avail. But he soon catches wind of dealings going on between the ‘top’ students, who seem to be sharing secret notebooks in order to pass. He pleads with the members to let him in, and they do, and send him on a series of tasks to ‘prove his worth’. After a student is killed and June becomes the prime suspect, the tasks soon spiral him into insanity and destruction. Although June finds a somewhat kindred spirit in the leader of the secret study group, events lead him to turn on the others he strived to be like.
The film boldly details and criticises the cut throat competition of education in Korea, and shows just how far a student might go in order to obtain the best grades. Because now it’s not about how smart you are, but the grade on your paper. June’s high school life is compared to that of the planet Pluto, good enough to be included with the rest, but will never be considered the same. People often make fun of Pluto in the same way that June is teased in the movie, and the comparison is woven and tied together with flashes of present and past and ends in an almost tragically beautiful way. ‘Pluto’ follows the same vein as Shin Su-won’s previous short movie, ‘Circle Line’ which features a middle age man trying to hide his work termination from his family.
Pluto is a movie that many can relate to, with the harsh reality where your grades are often more valued than yourself. The movie will leave your heart aching for June, despite the monster he becomes. The film struck particularly hard with the bullying scenes, having also felt that embarrassment and hurt in my life, I had one of those urges to reach into the screen and try to save June, something I’m sure many of us have wished someone would have done. That’s the part of the movie that hits the hardest. You know that June could be anyone, he could be you, your friend or a person in your class at school. The fact that anyone can slide into that role of being outcast for being different makes ‘Pluto’ more than just a criticism of the education system in Korea, but also of society and the way people are conditioned to believe that a little bit different means a little bit bad. Through that preconception and pressure, June does become the freak they all told him he was, but he doesn’t become that way without their ‘helping’ hands. If June had been in a school without peer pressure and bullying, would events have turned out the same?
Which then begs the question, how far would you go to be accepted, and to have the grades you always wished for?
Have you seen Pluto? Let us know your thoughts on the movie in the comments section, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth a watch!