Wednesday, October 23, 2013

KAFFNY ’13: Pluto

Forget about secret society rituals.  These elite prep school kids are too busy keeping their classmates down.  They are the top ten in their class and they will kill to keep it that way throughout Shin Su-won’s Pluto (trailer here), which screens during the 2013 Korean American Film Festival in New York.

Kim June was the top student in his public high school, but that does not impress anyone in his new school, particularly not his American roommate, Yu-jin Taylor, the top man in their class.  Supposedly, this is his big opportunity.  He was only admitted because a suicide opened up space for him.  That was Yung Su-jin’s roommate.  Now the slacker computer major is out to settle the score with the ruling elite.  Kim sort of likes her, but the working class transfer student opts to curry favor with the privileged ten instead. 

As part of their “rabbit hunting” initiations, Kim does their dirty work in exchange for inside information on approaching exams.  Naturally, Taylor and his cronies clearly have no intention of letting him into the club.  However, as viewers can readily glean from the film’s complicated flashback structure, it is a very bad idea to play mind games with someone as tightly wound as Kim.

While Pluto’s class warfare themes are obvious and inescapable, Shin’s uncompromising screenplay surpasses mere polemics, portraying the sociopathic will-to-power at its rawest.  This is not the sort of film that will have anyone saying “so there” when it ends.  Kim might be our protagonist, but he is not an exactly a downtrodden POV character audiences would like to identify with.  Surprisingly, his nemesis Taylor turns out to be the most nuanced of the lot.  Of course, his cronies do not much care for his sudden subtle dimensions of character.

Pluto boasts some considerable star-power, thanks to Kim Kkobbi appearing as Yung, a relatively modest but intriguing supporting role.  Lee Da-wit is eerily soulless and desperate as the hollow-looking Kim.  Yet, it is June Sung who really keeps viewers off-balance as the not exactly remorseful Taylor.

Many of the sins of prep school dramas past repeat again in Pluto.  As if required by an unwritten law, all the adults are ridiculously dense and the cops are problematically passive.  Still, Shin raises the stakes for all future prep students behaving badly, making a film like Tanner Hall look tame and pale in comparison.  Despite some clumsy excesses, it is mesmerizing in-your-face filmmaking. Recommended for the reasonably jaded, Pluto screens this Friday (10/25) at the Village East as part of this year’s KAFFNY.