Coincidentally, Judge Joel Pearce wore red Chuck Taylors while writing this review.
Our review of The Red Shoes: Criterion Collection (Blu-Ray), published July 20th, 2010, is also available.
One size kills all.
Tartan's latest Korean horror flick is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's preachy fable, except that the vanity is replaced with jealousy and lust. It's also surprisingly effective, even if the end doesn't make much sense.
Facts of the Case
Sun-jae (Hye-su Kim, Hypnotized) has left her life as an optician to be a housewife, but finds herself keenly dissatisfied by her husband's unreasonable demands and abusive approach. When she comes home early one day to find him having an affair, it's the last straw and she moves out with her young daughter, Tae-soo (Yeon-ah Park). They buy a small, crappy apartment close to the subway, and she decides to open a new clinic. Things change dramatically for her again when she finds an enchanting pair of pink shoes on the subway. She loves the shoes, and finds herself strangely obsessed when her daughter wants to try them on.
Director Yong-gyun Kim is a relatively new Korean director, who has decided to jump onto the horror bandwagon with The Red Shoes. It's not a bad first leap into the fray, as it does showcase some truly creepy moments, stunning cinematography and far more blood than we're used to seeing in recent Asian horror flicks. At first, I thought that it was going to be just another cursed object movie, with an innocent woman who gets caught up in a ghost's vengeful schemes. Thanks to some strong storytelling in the first half, this film certainly transcends the norm.
The first half is also scary, gory, and inventive. The visceral image of feet being chopped off from the original fable has survived intact, and Kim isn't afraid to pour the blood on. Sun-jae has some of the most remarkable dream sequences, rife with symbolism and unsettlingly gruesome. Many other elements from the original story sneak in, including ballet sequences that are absolutely stunning. Sun-jae is an interesting character, as she struggles with getting over her husband and contemplating the risk of a relationship with a new man. The way the shoes interact with her own lust and desires is fascinating, and Hye-su Kim puts in an excellent performance. Her face clearly shows her own internal struggles.
The success of the first half heightens the disappointment as The Red Shoes takes a quick dive into overused Asian horror conventions. Suddenly, there's the long-haired female ghost (do they have male ghosts in Asia?), a really silly twist, melodramatic flashbacks to the occupation period, and some revelations that just confuse us more. It's almost as though they ran out of unique ideas partway through, switched over to autopilot, and let genre expectations do the rest. It doesn't keep this from being one of the most visceral and engaging horror movies from Asia this year, but it prevents it from becoming what it could have been. Tartan has brought over the shorter version of the film, which contains less violence and sex than a director's cut that was released in Korea (unfortunately without English subtitles). I expect that most of this film's target audience would just as soon see the longer version.
Tartan has done a generally good job with this release, and has avoided any critical screw-ups. The video transfer is converted from PAL and it shows, so there is combing at times. The image also looks dull and washed out compared to the Korean DVD, with soft black levels and shadow detail. It doesn't look terrible, but it could be a lot better. The sound is strong, utilizing the surrounds really well during the scary sequences. The DTS track is preferred, but anyone with a surround system will be happy. There are a few extras on the disc, including a commentary track with the director, producer, and cinematographer. It's one of those "friendly reunion banter" tracks, so it's only recommended for serious fans of the film. There are also two featurettes, one focusing on production and the other on visual effects. These are better, if a bit technical.
Despite a faltering second half, I can still recommend checking out The Red Shoes. It relies on too many generic horror conventions, but it uses them so well that it covers up some of the confusion and plot holes. Horror fans that let this one take over will be pleased by its stunning visuals, creative use of gore, and desire to bring something slightly different to the table. If Yong-gyun Kim relies on his own vision next time he directs a horror film, we will probably have a masterpiece on his hands. If you can play Region 3 discs, I would recommend the Korean special edition over the Tartan version because of the additional cut of the film and a stronger video transfer, but this one will do the job for those of you without that option.
Director Yong-gyun Kim is ordered to dance to his own music next time, or his feet will be cut off.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Commentary Track
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