According to today's mass media, tech school equals nerd-land while engineering majors are four-eyed geeks. And, heck, most probably spend their weekends engaging in really unfunny science-related banter that others just can't appreciate. Though I do not doubt the fact that there exists some statistical basis behind this hackneyed impression of engineering students, we should not disrespect this truth: some of us are gifted idiots.
One of the most talked-about movies of last summer in South Korea is one that portrays the lives of dorm-living college students at a top-notch engineering school - much like the story of KAIST's students.
Though the movie was originally produced in 2009, it was officially released in South Korea this past August. With a review rating of over 9.4 out of 10 stars on Naver, the most popular web portal in Korea, 3 Idiots attracted over 400,000 viewers, according to the Korean Film Council. Amidst the usual wave of blockbuster hits released over the summer, this popular foreign movie remained solid in its position.
For a film that was initially released roughly two years before it appeared in Korean theaters, and could have probably been easily (hopefully not illegally) downloaded online, the turnout was pretty impressive. In fact, the movie held first place at the box office for five weeks after its release.
The Indian comedy directed by Rajkumar Hirani started out as a record-breaking Bollywood film in its home country as well. The movie is loosely based on Chetan Bhagat's novel, Five Point Someone - What Not to Do at IIT! - a 2004 bestseller itself.
The film begins with two characters Farhan (played by R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) searching for their third roommate from college whom they had lost touch with for the past decade. While reminiscing about their college lives, they recall hilarious incidents from the past, thanks to their dear friend Rancho (Aamir Khan).
During the intermittent flashbacks, the three "idiots" enter Imperial College of Engineering (ICE), one of the most prestigious colleges in India. From his first day, Rancho stands out among his colleagues due to his eccentric behaviors and personality. For instance, while his roommates entered ICE to fulfill their parents' wishes or secure themselves desirable jobs, Rancho is apathetic about his grades and seems to attend ICE for the pure joy of learning.
However, due to his idiosyncratic behavior and rebelliousness against the school's education system, Rancho exasperates his professors and is soon under strict surveillance by Dean Viru Sahastrabudhhe (Boman Irani), also known as Virus. The ceaseless catastrophes caused by the trio is further complicated when Rancho begins to develop romantic feelings for Virus's youngest daughter Pia (Kareena Kapoor).
Coming back to present time, Farhan and Raju set out on a road trip from Delhi, looking for Rancho after his mysterious disappearance from school ten years ago. The surprise ending is satisfying and hits the sweet spot for the audience.
3 Idiots may already have enough dynamic characters and plot but it is also equipped with the classic Bollywood-style musical scenes. Even if you are not a "song-and-dance" person when it comes to movies, have no fear: these scenes are only temporary and complement the story well enough that you will find yourself wiggling your toes to the melodies.
The popularity of the movie, particularly in South Korea, can be traced back to the national background of the overly competitive education system. In Korea, students of all ages - from young elementary children to university graduate students - are trained to study under overwhelming pressure and extremely high academic standards. In short, this movie is, really, our own story.
Yet, the film never harshly denounces the educational system but instead uncovers disturbing truths and unseen consequences of tremendous pressure upon students. It also confronts and questions the integrity and principles behind these unrelenting academic systems that continue to suffocate us.
The movie is over 140 minutes long but is garnished with cycles of contrasting scenes that will either make you laugh or shed a couple of tears. Even if you don't end up crying like I did (or won't admit that you did), you'll still enjoy the movie. When walking out of the theater, try to ask yourself why the movie is titled 3 Idiots, not "3 Geniuses." And when you think you finally have it figured out, repeat to yourself the three magic words - All is well.