The Shoe Fairy
This whimsical film is a production from Focus
Films in their First Cuts series. Focus Films is the company that Andy
Lau has put together to support new directing talent in Hong Kong and around
Asia as well as serving as a production company for his own starring vehicles
(“All About Love”). The First Cuts series is a concept that the industry
desperately needs to nurture new directors at a time in which the HK film
industry is crumbling and few investors are willing to take a chance on
anyone without a track record. The films are still low budget (shot on
HD technology) but receive a lot of professional care and tend to be more
“artistic” and less commercial than one might expect from Hong Kong. Two
other titles in the series are “Rain Dogs”, an interesting though slow
moving film about two young brothers that takes place in Kuala Lumpur and
“I’ll Call You” which is the directorial debut of Lam Tze Chung, who is
best known for his appearance as Stephan Chow’s chunky sidekick in Shaolin
Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.
Director Robin Lee certainly gives this an eye
scorching visual pop gloss that will make you think you need your retinas
readjusted. The colors are startling bright and vivid and the sets are
surrealistically unreal (the film won the Golden Horse Award for art direction).
Though the story on the surface appears to take place in modern day Taiwan,
its look and feel come out of the pages of a children’s fairy tale. Interestingly,
the visual design, eccentric characters, puckish humor and straight-faced
stoic mood of the film appear very much influenced by the Thai film “Citizen
Dog”. Like that film, this also has minimum dialogue and allows an off
screen narrator (Andy Lau) to tell the tale in the fashion of long ago
storytellers. It’s the first film I can think of that seems strongly indebted
to a Thai film – the global network at work.
The film is infused with the influences of fairy
tales, not only in its own story arc and visual look but it also gives
nods to real life children’s stories such as Alice in Wonderland and The
Little Match Girl. But the biggest link is to Hans Christian Anderson’s
The Little Mermaid in which the little mermaid wants to have feet. The
film also reminds us that fairy tales are not fairy dust, but often morbid
frightening stories that were used as moral signposts to scare young children.
Dodo is an eight-year old girl who was born with crippled feet and is unable
to walk. Her favorite pastime is to have her parents read her fairy tales
that she listens to in wide eyed wonderment and she wishes that some day
she will get feet, but hopes she doesn’t have to give up her voice as did
the Little Mermaid.
That day does come when she is operated on and
while under the anesthesia she is visited by a strangely attired fairy
who tells her she will only have true happiness when she has a black and
a white sheep. As she grows into adulthood (now played by the still teenage
looking Vivian Hsu), she becomes obsessed with shoes for her feet and buys
all sorts of fantastic looking footwear that seem to be right out of a
transvestite shoe fetish magazine. She connects emotionally with shoes
– they cry if she doesn’t buy them – smile when they are happy for her.
But she wants a Prince as well in her life and finds one when she gets
a toothache and goes to the Smiley Dentist and meets Smiley (played by
the affable Duncan Chow – “Formula 17”) who is immediately charmed by this
woman and her fabulous shoes.
They date and soon marry and a happy ending seems
to be inevitable as they revel in each other in the early stages of married
life – brushing each other’s teeth, Smiley wearing an assortment of ever
higher head gear to keep the morning sun out of his beloved’s sleeping
face and a room to hold her ever growing collection of shoes. But in fairy
tales obsession and need are usually met with a harsh moral punishment
and Dodo meets the same fate – but this punishment is also her salvation
as she learns that what is really important in life is simply living and
loving those around you with all your heart. Very charming and lovely to
look at, this is a small oddball delight that pleases more than perhaps
it should and the final fifteen minutes are simplistic in its lessons and
yet emotionally pitch perfect and straight to the heart.
My rating for this film: 7.5