Red Shoes

Director: Kim Yong-gyun
Year: 2005
Production Company: Generation Blue Film
Running Time: 103 minutes

It seems like every year now Korea has one horror film that is wrapped in enigmatic mystery and shot like an art film. In 2003 there was “A Tale of Two Sisters” and in 2004 they gave us “Spider Forest”. Now this year comes the puzzling yet intriguing “Red Shoes”. I won’t even try to say that I completely understand these films as they are intentionally built on a dreamlike quagmire of confusing time lines, identity and reality. The one question you constantly have to ask yourself in all three of these films is what is real and what is not – and even afterwards this is never entirely clear. Though these films often leave you with more questions than answers, that is part of the fun.

Stunningly shot with deep colors, striking close-ups and fevered imagery, “Red Shoes” veers wildly between art film and genre film, but every frame is beautifully thought out and rendered. The film is cluttered emotionally with almost too much angst – paranoia, anger, jealousy, infidelity, obsession, madness, sexual desire and a suggested Electra Complex. All these tangled up emotions create a messy layered sense of psychosis that surrounds the basic horror elements of the story with unnerving effect. Assisting all this are isolated urban settings, eerie atmospherics, a jarring musical score and some terrific acting from Kim Hye-soo and Park Yeon-ah (who succeeds the little girl in “The Phone” as one more reason never to have children!).
The film begins in pure horror genre mode – a young female student waits all alone on the subway platform for her friend when she suddenly notices a pair of red (though really closer to pink) high heeled shoes perched near the edge of the track. They beckon her forward and suddenly they are on her feet, but her friend shows up and demands the shoes leading to a fight between them in which the friend gets the shoes and walks away in them . . . but not for long. This is just a mood setter though and the real story soon begins. Sun-jae (Kim Hye-soo) appears to be in a loveless marriage to her husband (Lee Uhl), but she dotes on her young daughter Tae-soo (Park Yeon-ah). One afternoon she comes home early to look for Tae-soo and instead discovers her husband with another woman. She and Tae-soo move out and into a small apartment, but on the subway one day she notices a pair of red shoes sitting alone and she picks them up and takes them home to add to her large collection of stylish shoes. Not a good thing clearly.
The shoes have some magical effect – they make you feel younger, sexier, more alive – or in the case of Tae-soo who becomes fascinated with the shoes – older and more womanly – and much creepier. Sun-jae meets a handsome interior designer (Kim Sung-su) and is attracted to him -”those red shoes would look great on you” he tells her and she becomes obsessed with them and gets into physical fights with her little girl over them – both seem to be on the verge of madness and the seed of this appears to go back to 1944 when a love triangle ended up in blood and tragedy. As Sun-jae begins to realize the past history of the shoes she fears that her daughter is next to die and frantically tries along with the designer to discover an answer to this curse. But the answer isn’t one she will like.
Whether any of this really makes sense or fits together is questionable and the switch between nightmares and supposed reality is at times maddeningly confusing, but it looks wonderfully surreal and definitely gives a few jolts. The Korean DVD has two versions of the ending of the film – the shorter one labeled “15” was the theatrical version while the longer one labeled “18” is the director’s cut. Unfortunately, the director’s cut has no English subtitles but I watched the ending of it and it is quite different than the other one – and seems to be favored by many though I thought both were interesting.

My rating for this film: 7.5


Reviewed: 01/06

Previous films from the Director:

Wanee and Junah (2001)