Red Shoes (US - DVD R1)
Thank God they don't make women's shoes in Gabe's size. It'd be scary...
Hans Christian Andersen wrote a disturbing fairy tale in the late 1800s about a vain little girl condemned to dance until death by a pair of red shoes. Like most fairy tales, the story was somewhat sanitized for future generation (most versions do not include the removal of the girl's feet, or the fact that the severed limbs won't let her into church to repent), but the story has a moral, and has remained popular for generations.
Kim Yong-gyun’s modern take on the story is a very loose adaptation, retaining some of the original story in flashback, and the general themes. It follows Sun-jae, an ocular specialist who catches her husband cheating on her and leaves with their only child. Soon after, distraught and depressed, she finds a pair of red high heals (truth be told, they're actually more pink than red) on a late-night subway ride, and decides to take them. The shoes seem to drive everyone around her mad with jealousy, and murder and mayhem ensue.
Every time Tartan USA sends me an Asian horror movie I hope this will be the one that blows my mind and sends me leaping behind the couch in a shivering furry. The Red Shoes is not that film, but it may be the best of its kind I've seen since A Tale of Two Sisters. The story is the same old thing, involving a haunted or cursed object (in this case the shoes) that brings about death to those that come into contact with it. As per the norm, our protagonists must first come to terms with the fact that there is a supernatural presence in an ordinary object, and then go about detecting the history behind the curse and how to stop it.
This time around, the object has the power to create need, and characters actually want to obtain it, whereas usually in these films the contact is more accidental. The shoes are kind of a foot fetishist's One Ring, only without the spooky voice. This subject must be treated very delicately, otherwise the silliness of the situation will bleed through, and the film will cease being a horror film and become a comedy. Yong-gyun is up to task, but just barely.
The film's strongest asset is its unbelievably striking visuals. In fact, had a lesser director and DP tackled this story, I'm not sure the film would've even been watchable. Every angle is striking, and every frame has been digitally altered to arresting perfection. I wouldn't say I found the film frightening, but spooky, and impossible to tear away from. There are some real bravado sequences with some amazing lighting work, flickering fluorescents being a consistent image in the film.
My problem with the film, other than the fact that it's really just another version of Ringu, are the characters. The actors are all fantastic, no doubt, but the characters have all been written as cold, self-centred jerks, with the exception of Sun-jae's love interest, who is the warm centre of the entire film. I understand that the shoes alter perceptions, but even when they aren't around the characters are ignoring each other’s cries for help, making insensitive comments, and generally acting as apathetic as possible. Other filmmakers have found success with this formula, but this particular film requires at least a minimum of pity for the shocks and scares to really work.
Anyone who's seen more than two post- Ringu ghost stories knows that the end of the third act is always a false climax, and that there will inevitably be another fifteen minutes of revelations and scares. This time it really works, and I'm entirely ashamed that I didn't figure out the twist until about a minute before the big clue is revealed. In hindsight there are some massive giveaways. Regular site readers probably know I have a problem with empty shock twists, but emotionally and tonally this one really worked, and even saved the film from mediocrity.
For the most part, The Red Shoes look like a million bucks, thanks in no small part to the digital grading process. I hazard to guess that Tartan used the direct digital data, rather than going from digital to analogue and back. If they didn't, they should have. There is some grain, but no noticeable artefacts.
Dark scenes vary from spot on to pretty bad. The whole disc seems to have a small problem with cross colouration and digital noise. Occasionally black seems to absorb colours and take on their tint, which I'm reasonably sure was not part of the digital grading process, especially considering how perfect the levels are in other scenes. During these scenes of total blackness there is also a lighter streak running down the left side of the image. Beyond these nit picky issues, this is a great transfer.
Korean horror makers seem to love their baroque soundtracks, and The Red Shoes has a beautiful one. The DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are both aggressive with music and creepy sound effects. It's no big surprise that composer Lee Byung-woo also worked on Kim Ji-Woon's A Tale of Two Sisters. The perfect fidelity on the cellos and violins is wondrous, and when the rear channels scratch with less musical sounds, the hairs on the back of your neck will stand on end. My only complaint, a small one, is that both tracks lack wide spatial separation during real life sound, ensuring that I was never full enveloped when there wasn't music playing.
The Red Shoes is no great departure for Tartan Asia Extreme, and houses the usual standby special features. These include a director commentary, a press-kit featurette, a special effects featurette, and trailers.
I've come to expect very technical commentaries from Korean filmmakers, and am happy to say that Yong-gyun speaks a little more about the story side of the film, and has a few back-stage anecdotes to share. Lead actress Hye-su is also on the track, as well as the film's cinematographer. Hye-su dominates certain sections of the track. It turns out that she had a lot of input, not only into her character, but also into scenes that were added to the final film.
The featurette is a press kit, but is more informative than usual, and has actually been separated into a few chapters. It offers up some interviews inter-spliced with behind the scenes footage. The follow up featurette is marked as a special effects study, but mostly covers the digital grading process. The shoes themselves were separated and altered in every scene; a painstaking process that I'm not sure was entirely effective. I understand that special effects like these aren't meant to be noticed, but there really is very little difference in the before and after pictures.
Fans of Asian ghost stories will adore The Red Shoes, as it's one of the sub-genre's best in a long while. The film is not without its faults, but has a decent story, solid performances, and a stunning visual flair. This one's worth a rental at least. The DVD sports a fine transfer with only a few issues with black levels in a few select scenes, and an aggressive DTS track. Don't let the silly tag line ("One Size Kills All") put you off to this one, but don't go expecting any miracles either.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 24th October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director/Cinematographer/Actress Commentary, The Making of The Red Shoes, Visual Effects Featurette, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kim Yong-gyun
Cast: Kim Hye-su, Kim Seong-su, Park Yeon-ah, Go Su-hee, Eol Lee
Length: 103 minutes
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