Sunday 14 December 2008

The Red Shoes (2005)

It doesn't bode well that the red shoes of the title aren't red, they're as pink as pink could be, but they're freaky nonetheless. They appear mysteriously on an almost deserted rail platform, even there's only one girl there. Naturally she wanders over to take a look when she sees them neatly placed at the edge of the platform and tries them on, but another girl appears as mysteriously as the shoes and attacks her for them. That didn't turn out to be a great idea because this is a horror movie and so shortly afterwards this new girl loses the shoes along with the feet she'd put in them, all in the sort of freakily edited weird movements you might expect from an eastern movie.

Fast forward a little way and a young lady by the name of Sun-jae finds the same pair of shoes on a train carriage. She's a troubled character, rejected from all sides: her husband's sleeping with someone else and her daughter is her daddy's girl. She finds her way out of the marriage at least, moving to a new place with her daughter and starting up a new eye clinic, or some such. But the shoes bring new troubles: it seems that they provoke intense desire on the part of anyone who sees them, thus prompting battles between mother and daughter, and the bizarre death of a friend who borrows/steals them. It would seem that people who steal the shoes come to a quick and grisly end with their feet severed.

The other lead character is an interior decorator who Sun-jae hires to design her new clinic. He's pleasantly strange and direct: he moves into the clinic and waits for his vibe to come before beginning work. They begin a relationship and he helps her find the history of the curse. There is a curse, of course, through a connection to the past. Wearing the shoes and looking into the mirror brings vision into past events and helps bring some insight and resolution. However there's more going on than just the story behind the red shoes.

I'm still finding Korean cinema fascinating, even though I'm seeing more and more films that are not not necessarily great. This one has plenty going for it but it falls short. It has a solid premise behind it, tying the old Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale into a modern curse story. It has some excellent acting, especially from Kim Hye-su as Sun-jae and Park Yeon-ah as her daughter Tae-su (in her only film to date). The cinematography is often subtle and powerful, with some great location scouting that leads to quite a few scenes appearing notably freaky even though they're technically completely commonplace. I love the trick in the end credits too.

Yet it's also disjointed, with the writing notably inconsistent. Reality and dream often blur a little too closely, some characters change character dramatically just because there's been a twist or a disclosure and the last twenty minutes really doesn't feel like it belongs in the same film: it explains much but opens as many plotholes as it closes. The Red Shoes runs 103 minutes long, 109 minutes in the uncut Korean version, but it feels like it would have been much more successful as, say a 70 minute film with the ending removed and the script tightened accordingly.

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