Director: Kim Yong-gyun
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
Previous films from the Director:
Wanee and Junah (2001)