The Red Shoes (2005)
By: Robert Winter on May 15, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (USA). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Korean DD 5.1, Korean DTS 5.1. English Subtitles. 99 minutes
The Movie
Director: Yong-gyun Kim
Starring: Hye-su Kim, Seong-su Kim, Yeon-ah Park, Su-hee Go, Eol Lee
Screenplay: Yong-gyun Kim, Ma Sang-Ryeol
Country: South Korea
AKA: Bunhongsin
"Mother I hate you, your feet are ugly!"

Following the gothic strains of pipe organ music playing over the opening imagery, which incidentally sounds more fiendishly suited to mark a grand entrance by Bela Lugosi, we're introduced to a waifish, bespectacled Korean girl in a subway station. She is charmed by a pair of pretty pink shoes placed neatly by the side of the platform and goes to try them on. Suddenly, a young woman attacks her, grabs the shoes and flees. Strutting proudly through a gloomy pedestrian tunnel, the shoe-clad thief is startled when a twisted, hairy figure appears in the distance. Advancing towards her at break-neck speed, the apparition snatches the shoes back. Then, in a moment of high-tension, the camera slowly pans away to reveal the woman screaming and staring at the bloody stumps where her lower legs should be.

For many women shoes are much more than just a covering for the functional, yet evolutionary ugliness of their feet. They are a symbol of self-esteem in which the wearer is allowed to feel a periodic sense of authority and sexual independence. Frequently women can be overheard lovingly discussing new shoes that they had just bought, or fitfully gushing over a pair of gravity-defying knee-high boots their female work colleague is currently sporting around the office. Ad taglines promise: "Flirt with style," or "Slip into a little romance" to sell their products and the phenomenally successful television series, Sex in the City, had its central character Carrie Bradshaw often defined by the style and brand of shoe she wore.

Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's cautionary fable of all-consuming shoe-philic self-absorption, The Red Shoes takes the implications of the global feminine footwear fetish to its visceral extreme. With its startling blend of Cinderella-like poeticism fused with the often literal, macabre text embedded in many fairy tales, male South Korean director Kim Yong-gyun explores the darker side of female vanity – jealousy and revenge. The film is swathed in delicate images of feminine sensuality that are ultimately torn asunder with chilling imagery and shocking moments drenched in gore.

Kim Hye-soo (Sun-jae) plays her role as a mother and "keeper" of the shoes with an extraordinary amount of pathos. She is believable as the distraught single parent struggling to protect her daughter from the evil effect of the shoes. When her daughter secretly tries them on for the first time she is psychologically transformed. Sun-jae is mortified when her daughter turns from little girl to a make-up wearing, defiant 'woman' who physically assaults her and becomes insanely jealous of her new boyfriend. More disturbing is the implication of early menstruation in a sequence that makes the shower scene from Carrie look anaemic in comparison.
The 2.35:1, anamorphic transfer is beautifully rendered. In the Visual FX featurette the DVD authors explain the painstaking process they went through to ensure the best possible picture reproduction. It certainly shows. There's only some slight print softness and grain now and again, but overall this is a very pleasing transfer.

This is also one very dark movie, but the set lighting is strategically placed to great effect to frame and detail the gorgeous imagery. Many of the indoor scenes are bathed in steely blues and greys, which is only broken by the striking "pinkness" of the shoes and the odd smattering of brilliant primary colours. Outdoor sequences fare even better with lush skylines and streetscapes crisp and inviting.

The subtitles appear to summarise the dialogue well and are easy to read.
The Korean 5.1 DTS mix is fantastic. Although the subwoofer is pretty much silent throughout the film, the other five channels periodically burst with eerie sound effects, soft violins and jarring, industrial musical flourishes to create a chilling atmosphere.
Extra Features
Audio commentary with director Kim Yong-gyun, producer Shin Chang-gil and lead actress Kim Hye-soo - I'm not one for commentary tracks unless they are moderated by a fan of the film or horror genre. Often participants seem unsure what to talk about and fall into the trap of simply stating the obvious or get bogged down in production superficialities. Unfortunately this commentary track is one of those and involves the participants yapping about the look and feel of the sets, colours and the characteristics of the actors.

However, of major interest to horror fans is that the director mentions a number of cuts he had to make to gain a PG rating for the Korean theatrical release. Sadly, it appears our DVD version is the theatrical cut as the gory images he mentions are not contained on this release. However, there is a 2-disc, Region 3 Korean edition which contains the unrated version with all the gore and evidently, raunchier sex scenes intact.

Making of Red Shoes (17:05) - Interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage, the lead characters and Director discuss their roles, production woes and what it was like working with each other. A bit of a fluff piece really.

Visual FX (13:44) - The first two-minutes involve a tech-head explaining the transfer process of converting analog to digital and back to analog again – or is it the other way around? The crew behind the DVD rendering are very proud of their work and for anyone interested in the mastering process this is an fascinating, detailed featurette.

Music video (4:43) - Reminiscent of Radiohead overlaid with a Depeche Mode drum-and-bass beat, this atmospheric song is sung in Korean with a bit of English mixed in.

Stills gallery - A series of 15 stills from the film.

Original trailer (2:13)

Madman trailers - Previews for Pulse (Original), Death Trance and Premonition.
The Verdict
For those who think that The Grudge and The Ring are the definitive Asian horror highlights then The Red Shoes will be a disappointment. However, if you're receptive to a fractured fairy tale drenched in viscera then this film will satisfy a nasty itch. It's just a shame we received the censored cut of the film.
Movie Score
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