Starring: Kim Khobbi, Lee Da-wit, Sung Joon
Director: Shin Su-won
Following on from the brutal animated feature The King of Pigs, here we have yet more evidence that when it comes to hellish high schools, Korea has the rest of the world beat. Pluto concerns June, a boy from a poor background who transfers to a highly competitive school where the top ten pupils receive special privileges. Keen to break into their magic circle, he quickly discovers that the odds are stacked in favour of rich kids with parents who pay for extra tuition and know how to grease the right palms. However, the “special class” indicate that they will welcome him into the fold if he will agree to carry out a series of macabre tasks for them..
Director Shin Su-won (herself a teacher for ten years) presents the story in disorientating non-chronological order, starting with a murder and then, via flashbacks and a revenge-themed framing device, taking in a suicide, several bloody beatings and an IED threat before it’s done. It’s a suitably alienating introduction to an alienated bunch of teens who don’t even have western-style wisecracks and pop culture to ease their angst (the hot topic of convo among the kids is astronomy). Brewing up an impressive atmosphere of bottled-up tension, the film paints a convincing picture of classroom snarkiness and backbiting, with occasional glances beyond the school walls to society at large – a society where people leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting ahead (in one aside, we learn that a character has had surgery on their tongue to improve their spoken English – apparently it’s a thing in Korea).
It’s a shame that the denouement isn’t handled in a slightly ballsier, more visceral way – as it is it feels a touch loose and ragged, and not quite up to the task of channelling pent-up audience tension. Otherwise, it’s all very compelling, if exceedingly glum. Animal lovers, be warned, a bunny gets the chop, and a flog has its inner ear punctured.