Su-won Shin (Reinbou) writes and directs a film about social expectation and obsession in the form of a dark thriller which twists and turns through a series of flashback sequences intermingled with our main story, a style that works brilliantly with a pace that all comes to a tense conclusion.
The image of how far a certain group of teenage high school students are willing to go to in order to guarantee themselves a place in an illustrious university is looked at through the eyes of Kim June (Da-wit Lee), a transfer student who, after receiving devastating results in his first set of exams, discovers a secret sect of students who share notebooks which contain incredibly important information that allow them to pass exams with ease. In order for him to join the group, they set a series of missions for June to carry out, causing him to do terrible things in the process. The film opens with the police finding a dead boy in the woods, leaning against a tree, and the blame falls on the boy whose mobile phone was found near the body. The suspect in question being June, who seeks redemption for being set up for the blame. These two stories run side-by-side and lead to a final act filled with tension.
A very dark, and very serious film, Pluto deals with interesting themes. The story of obsession, and the pressure that certain sections of students have placed on their shoulders, is told in a way that feels intense and unrelenting. It feels, at times, like these students are willing to do literally anything to get what they want, even if it means committing the most heinous of crimes. The cinematography is slick, and the camera seems to look at the school, which was once a government building, like an oppressive prison, a place where expectations are heavily placed.
Da-wit Lee, as June, gives a great performance in which he shows varied emotions and changes as a character the more he experiences, and the worse things become. Jun Sung (Poetry), as Yujin, June’s reluctant room-mate, is also a very intriguing character that is vital to the way the story unfolds and the decisions June makes along the way. The cast, overall, do a wonderful job at creating a land of compulsion and aggression, where nothing else matters and no terrible deed is off limits. There is somewhat a lack of emotion here, though. We see the anger, the psychotic nature of fixation and sadness, but with most of the characters we see very little else, perhaps the reasons why we end up caring very little for any of the people we have followed for two hours. Still, the tone of the film is so uncertain that it’s impossible not be taken in by the story, and I found the whole way the film played out, like two trains running side-by-side until its end, to be fulfilling and well-done.
The Blu-ray release of the movie, from Third Window Films, looks fantastic, and features some interesting interviews with the director, Shun Si-won, and Kim Kkobbi who played Jung Su-jin in the film. A must-see for fans of Korean cinema, and another excellent release from Third Window.