Red Shoes

Red Shoes


Reviewed by: Trinity

With the echo of ominous organ chords still resonating, two girls fight on a deserted subway platform for a pair of shoes, elegant and desirable. The victor, the prettier of the two, marches off in the shoes but is stalked by an unseen presence only to be met by a bloody fate. Flash forward and eye doctor turned housewife Sun-jae (Kim Hye-su) is stuck in a difficult marriage. When she catches her husband (Lee Uhl) having sex with his mistress - who is wearing her shoes - she flees with her young daughter Tae Soo (Pak Yeon-a) to a dingy apartment near the metro station. Then two things happen which change her life: she meets interior designer In-cheol (Kim Seong-su) and she picks up a pair of shoes when riding the subway...

Echoing Powell and Pressburger's 1948 The Red Shoes, a dark reinterpretation of Hans Christian Andersen's story, Kim's second film brings back the shoes (this time pink) and their attendant dance of death. Drawing heavily on many influences from both Italian and recent Japanese and Korean horror (think Suspiria crossed with Dark Water with added shock value), the film is an effective and dark exploration of madness. Weaving in a backstory of jealousy, murder and revenge between dancers in '40s occupied Korea, it also touches on themes of consumerism and materialism.

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Yet the filmmakers never really seem to put their whole heart into it, preferring instead to pull out every shock tactic in the book to make the audience jump. From the standard eerie music cues - dripping water, distant bells - to the swift cutting between front and rear shots, everything is arranged to ratchet up the tension. You want buckets of blood? Ghostly apparitions in mirrors? Elaborately staged deaths with falling shards of glass? You got it. Use of varying focus across the frame forces you to direct your attention to the shoes, unable to clearly see what is happening to characters in the rest of the frame. At times, the contrast is tweaked to drain the colour from the screen, much as the belief disappears from those afflicted by the cursed shoes. And yet the film is never unsubtle, merely unwilling to stray out of its genre.

Where the film certainly gets it right is in paying attention to the basics. No shoddy acting or preposterous dialogue plagues this production. The only misstep is the extra endings, one of which tries to respin the whole film away from its supernatural revenge plot to something more realistic, and a short credit sequence which harks at a Ring style slew of sequels. There is much to admire in the film, but at the same time you wish that it could have built on some of the recent updatings of the genre, from the subtlety of Whispering Corridors and The Devil's Backbone to the recent updating of Dawn Of The Dead. None the less, treated as a superior example of a straight up Far Eastern horror film, Red Shoes is certainly enough to make you think twice about buying shoes.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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Korean psycho-horror version of a Hans Christian Anderson short story.
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Keith Hennessey Brown ***

Director: Yong-gyun Kim

Writer: Yong-gyun Kim, Ma Sang-Ryeol

Starring: Kim Hye-su. Kim Seong-su, Park Yeon-ah

Year: 2005

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


EIFF 2006

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