Country: South Korea

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 104'

Producers: Shin Chang-Kil, Creta D. Kim

Director: Kim Yong-Gyun

Cast: Kim Hye-Soo, Kim Sung-Soo, Park Youn-Ah

GHOUL RATING: **(*) 3-

Story: Sun-Jae is a young mother whose marriage is falling apart. She moves with her small daughter into a small apartment only slightly more cheerful than the one in DARK WATER, but the source of terror is not in the soggy ceiling but in – a pair of lurid pink shoes that she discovers abandoned. Apparently, they invoke greed in anyone who spots them, and those who steal them soon find their feet cut off, optionally with some other body parts taken as well. Sun-Jae is in the centre of the mystery that threatens her daughter...

Review: The line of haunted paraphernalia in Asian horrors is getting longer and longer. A random and by no means complete list includes: video tapes, cell phones, radios, acacia trees, Ouija boards, mirrors, photo cameras, internet, trains, lockers, wigs, dolls... They have already announced a flick dealing with spooky hair extensions (!), and it's only a matter of time before we also get ghostly fake eyelashes or nails. Don't you already envision titles like NAILS or LIPSTICK OF BLOOD? Anyway, a new addition to the ever-growing list now consists of a pair of pink (no, they are just NOT red) female shoes. Kitschy and lurid in color and nothing special in shape, they are about as scary as your grandma's wig. But wait – they've already made that into an object of terror. Oh, well...

Obviously, a story like this is hard to take seriously. The director and his actors try up to a point, but there's only so much that you can get from a pair of whorish shoes. They must have realized that it's pointless trying to make those look spooky, so instead of relying on atmosphere they decided to go with blood. Lots of blood. The killings in this flick are among the goriest I've seen in Korean horror cinema, and this review is based on the theatrical cut. Apparently, there's four more minutes of sex 'n' gore in the director's cut (currently it's not available with English subtitles, but that might be changed in near future). One particularly effective set-piece involves the demise of a well-rounded lady who is lifted from her feet by the invisible force, has her eye plucked out by ghostly hands, is thrown into a shop-window and is de-feetated by a large piece of glass.

Unfortunately, there are not too many killings in RED SHOES since most of gore is reserved for dreams and visions. This is another cliché that wears out its welcome pretty soon: too many scenes are ended with 'it's only a dream' coda. It's annoying the first time. It's boring the third and fourth time around. The silly extravagant gore includes a scene in which red geysers gush from the ceiling like an inverted version of the Johnny Depp demise in Craven's original NIGHTMARE (although the humorous effect is closer to geysers that splatter all over Bruce Campbell in EVIL DEAD II ). In another scene copious amounts of blood flow from under the skirt of a six-year old girl! Yes, it's as tasteless as it sounds, and it's longer, more explicit and more shocking than the crucifix masturbation in THE EXORCIST. Just when you hope this is another stupid vision, the little girl ends up in hospital, although no one ever explains what it was that ailed her, or how could such a tiny body contain so many gallons of blood and remain alive after losing them. (On a side note: the terrors visited upon the girl in this flick raise an issue of highly questionable laws –if any?- for working with minors in South Korea; there is no body double here to protect the child from all kinds of natural and supernatural abuse). There's also a lame attempt at stylized visuals when Sun-Jae and her new boyfriend stand on the top of the hospital while bloody flakes of 'snow' (?) fall on their faces. Although this is not supposed to be a dream, they just shrug it off and never refer to it again. And that is the main problem of this film: it never dwells on the characters or story it introduces, it never examines anything, and it never establishes a convincing world in which events have realistic consequences. Instead of that, 'anything goes' is the main principle, and whatever happens is utterly inconsequential. With no people to care for and no story to make sense of, with no consistency in tone, the outcome is pretty much uninvolving.

To tell the truth, occasional scenes ARE effective, and the director is especially to be praised for his clever use of stroboscopic blinking neon lights in several scenes. The gore is well handled and is pleasing to the eye, but it never really hits hard so that it would matter. It's reduced to a gag. You see it, it's either funny or scary or both, but soon you forget it because the context it appears in is neither edgy nor convincing that it would be burnt into your frail mind to haunt you afterwards. The whole film is reduced to cheap, instant 'thrills' (including insultingly stupid 'hand on the shoulder' and 'the pigeon flight' jump scares). Since it is unable to create a convincing setting for its outrageous story, it cheats by lazily accommodating the world to its needs: the subway stations are at all times utterly empty, there is no one in the streets when the director doesn't need them and the bloody snowflakes do not excite even a raised eyebrow on the part of those covered in them.

(SPOILER: The twist ending is the epitome of cheating: although some have compared it to that in the exquisite HAUTE TENSION, a careful examination would prove that the French horror masterpiece played by its rules, while RED SHOES cheated without any real reason. END SPOILER;) Allegedly there is a different, better ending in the director's cut, but we'll have to wait and see. The film as presented here, in its theatrical version, barely deserves a second viewing. As a time-waster and cheap-thrills provider, it can serve its purpose: you can rent it on a rainy day when there's nothing better to watch. But unless you're a really devoted fan of Asian horror there is no real need to buy this DVD.

DVD [ NTSC, Region 3 ] : Woo Sung ENT provided a solid presentation of this crowd-pleaser: it's in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, with a decent image where blacks could've been better, but is overall sharp. The sound is Korean dts / Dolby Digital 5.1, the English subtitles are OK (on several occasions too fast, but in general – decent) while there are no extras that would mean anything to an English-speaking audience, since the director's commentary is available only in Korean, with no English subs. Having in mind all that's said above, if you still want to see this flick – maybe you should wait for the director's cut, which this is not.


DVD [ NTSC, Region 1 ] : Here comes TARTAN with a R1 edition of THE RED SHOES, but, unfortunately, it is the cut, 103' version, with some extreme gore and sex cut out. It seems weird they did not go that extra mile to obtain the uncut version, especially since their main selling points in advertising seem to be the gruesomeness and gore: the DVD cover features a cut-off female leg on a dirty-pale background, similar to some SAW-movies covers, while the menus on the disc itself are literally bubbling with blood. The image in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 is somewhat paler and with slightly more muted colors than the Hong Kong edition (Woo Sung ENT) which has stronger blues. The sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and DTS 5.1. which come handy in numerous spooky scenes. As for the extras: the main one would be the commentary. The DVD cover announces that it's by 'the director and cinematographer' (and numerous DVD reviews on the Net blindly copied this info from the cover without checking); however, the participants in the commentary are the director, the producer Shin Chang-Gil and the female star, Kim Hye-Soo. This feature is lively and entertaining, but does not dwell too much on the parts excised for rating. There is also a Making of feature with interviews: 17 minutes of actors praising one another and their director, with very little discussion of the film and its purpose and only brief snippets from actual making of the film. There is also a 14 minutes feature about visual effects: it tends to be too technical and one wonders why, in a movie in which the main 'meat' is its gore they did not do a feature on make up effects instead. There is also a fine theatrical trailer for THE RED SHOES, plus trailers for other Tartan releases. All in all, this is a fine edition, slightly better than the R3 one (because of the extras), but still... we want the uncut version, please!



A SERBIAN FILM is the most shocking film you're likely to see this year – or any year soon. And the most shocking thing about it is how well made, well acted and poignant it is.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that A SERBIAN FILM is not exactly the kind of fare you want to see with your mom. What with the story of an ex-porn star accepting one last job so he can sustain his impoverished family in today's Serbia, and the uber-sick underworld he stumbles upon in which pornography, war criminals and State Security are linked in ways unimaginable, yet so logical. Our star chances upon the kind of movies that can only be made where human life is very cheap!

Photo: From the set - director Spasojevic (left)

Oh, yes; there are hints of snuff here. But "snuff" does not even begin to describe the levels and amounts of depravity involved. The shocking, sickening stuff that men, women and children are forced to endure here. A whole new depraved subgenre of porn is introduced in what will certainly be the most talked-about scene of the film. But I won't spoil the goodies that await those with the strongest stomachs and nerves. I will just try to hint at the ideas and impressions that A SERBIAN FILM invokes.

Photo: From the set - director Spasojevic (right) and star (Srdjan Todorovic, in the car)

If you thought: "Oh, well; so now Serbia has discovered 'torture porn'? Who cares?" – think again. If you expect just a tired retread of cheap sadistic gimmicks already done to death in the SAW sequels and their poor direct-to-DVD cousins – you're in for a surprise.

First of all, A SERBIAN FILM puts to shame almost all recent attempts at nightmare inducing shocks, with only MARTYRS (and a somewhat bygone, but still unforgettable IRREVERSIBLE) as relatively solid reference points – not in terms of plot, but in terms of nerve-shattering effect on the viewer. This film will f*** your senses, it will rape your soul. Be prepared to see penis go where no penis has gone before. Be prepared to see new uses of Viagra for bulls. Be prepared to witness unprecedented levels of child abuse. And then some.

Second of all, this is a beautifully shot and edited film, with an excellent sense of timing and narrative economy and a superb industrial droning score by Sky Wikluh. Also, there are at least two incredibly memorable performances. One is by Srdjan Todorovic as Milos, the said ex-porn actor selling his sex tool for the last time. He simmers with quiet desperation through the first half of the film only to explode in a raging feat towards the end which will sear you like a wildfire until the very celluloid seems to be burning. The other is Sergey Trifunovic, as the shady Vukmir, insane producer and director, the puppet master of an "art" porn theater in which performers include a war-hero's widow and kids from a Home for abandoned and orphaned children. Although technically a villain, Vukmir is the one with all the best lines and the most thought-provoking monologues whose content may be as shocking to some as the imagery he shoots.

Third of all, none of this would matter if the film had shocks for shocks' sake, or if it were just another exercise in cinematic sadism. The horrors of A SERBIAN FILM actually have a point. There's an attitude and meaning behind it all. The film is firmly rooted in a feeling of frustration and despair of living in Serbia today. But, fear not: you need not know much about the recent history or the daily life or politics of this European country to be able to understand the frame of mind and the state of affairs behind the permeating sentiments of resignation, tiredness, despair, humiliation, cynicism, pessimism and the wish to leave all that behind. A SERBIAN FILM does not offer any false hope. Quite the opposite, it reinvents horror genre to suit its own purpose, finding in it the perfect vehicle to depict the feelings that life in Serbia evokes in its youth.

Mind you: this is not a documentary film, and the Serbia you'll see here is not the one you'll encounter if you ever come to this country. Instead of copy-pasting reality, A SERBIAN FILM transcends it and offers a stylized version of what it feels like to live in country humiliated, denigrated, impoverished, bombed-out, stripped of its territory, labeled genocidal and haunted by the spirits of war crimes both real and constructed. It is a country in which shady figures with strong political (and criminal) background still govern your life, where hope is hazy and dignity forgotten, where you are both metaphorically and literally f***ed.

In such a context, pornography and snuff are vivid metaphors for the raging Thanatos overpowering Eros, in a similar manner to another recent Serbian film, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORN GANG (2009). Death drive governs the sex drive so much that even the pleasure-giving penis becomes a death-dealing weapon. And this metaphor is quite literal in this film, but without the mediating distance of splatstick humor of the Japanese Machine Girls or the Sci-Fi of mutating Tetsuos. You won't know whether to laugh, cry, stare in disbelief or leave the theater (provided your legs still obey your commands) at the transgressive new links between sex and death that A SERBIAN FILM reveals.

This review is intentionally vague about the plot details. You deserve to be as innocent and virginal as possible entering the film – before it rapes you like a bearded, ogrish war criminal.

A SERBIAN FILM should not be taken literally, like a "slice of life" depiction of today's Serbia. What it does is use strong and exaggerated metaphors to convey a certain feeling. If MARTYRS and IRREVERSIBLE, for example, portrayed sickening doings in France without making audiences believe it to be a nation of sick perverts and rapists, hopefully A SERBIAN FILM, in a similar manner, won't do much to hurt Serbia's already not too good public image. As the matter of fact, it plays upon certain expectations (and prejudices) associated with how this locale is perceived in the West, and can be understood as a grotesque parody of Serbia's current image in the eyes of foreigners. It seems to be saying: "You thought we were a nation of criminals and maniacs and ogres? You haven't seen anything yet!"

This is just one of the ways that A SERBIAN FILM implicates its audience into its cunning doings: it will involve you, whether you like it or not, and it will make you question not only your role as a spectator and voyeur of sexual and violent cinematic arousals, but will also shatter many other preconceptions you may bring with you to the film. It has a clever way of making you reconsider all that you hold dear. One thing is certain: it won't leave you indifferent. It will embrace you, seduce you and penetrate you before you know what's gotten you and once you start picking your jaw off the floor it will be too late.

Never again will you be able to hear or read the innocent phrase "a Serbian film" without a reflexive awakening of the searing images that Aleksandar Radivojevic (screenplay) and Srdjan Spasojevic (co-writer and director) have put on screen. For better or worse, A SERBIAN FILM will mark you for life like few other films have managed. It reinvents the somewhat forgotten art of real transgressive cinema and shows what real filmmaking can still accomplish.



Controversial (and rightly so!) shocker, A SERBIAN FILM, will have its Canadian Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival as part of scorching "Subversive Serbia" spotlight.

The Fantasia Film Festival –the best place on Earth for shocking, subversive, transgressive, unusual, hard-to-find, rare international gems - has announced a first slice of programming for its 2010 event. SUBVERSIVE SERBIA: a spotlight on the blistering new wave of confrontational and edgy Serbian cinema.

At this early stage, the festival can announce only an initial trio of titles: Srdjan Spasojevic's A SERBIAN FILM (Srpski Film), which is about to have its North American premiere at SXSW, Mladen Djordjevic's Raindance hit THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG (Zivot i smrt porno bande) and, making its long awaited Montreal debut, Uros Stojanovic's TEARS FOR SALE (Carlston za Ognjenku), an adored selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, co-written by SERBIAN FILM's screenwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic.

Fantasia is also working with journalist Dejan Ognjanovic in association with the Belgrade Cinematheque to curate a parallel series to be announced shortly.

"The voices emerging from the new wave of independent Serbian cinema are some of the rawest and most daring of any we've ever encountered" said Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis. "This is smart, confrontational filmmaking with astounding elements of shock, armed with the intelligence and the urgency to back it up. In particular, SERBIAN FILM and PORNO GANG are, to my mind, the CLOCKWORK ORANGEs of our generation. They push boundaries in ways that cinema rarely has the courage to do, and they're two of the most transgressive films I've ever seen. We can't wait to see them come to life in front of an audience here. "

SERBIAN FILM producer Nikola Pantelic issued the following statement: "To us, Canada is a very special place because it is the homeland of one of our favorite filmmakers, whose work greatly inspired us - David Cronenberg. We're honored to participate in Fantasia- a place where majority of our favorite recent films were screened. Montreal Fantasia is one of the few places left on this earth where artistic freedom and unorthodox cinema thinking still mean something. Mitch Davis is one of the rare people who has reacted to our film in exactly the right way. Fantasia has become a Mecca for gutsy and vital cinema today. For A Serbian Film, things have come full circle."

The 2010 Fantasia Film Festival will take place in Montreal July 8 - July 27. More information can be found at www.fantasiafestival.com .

An exclusive review of A SERBIAN FILM will be published on this blog in a few days. Stay tuned.