3/27/2010

THE RED SHOES (2005)

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.


THE RED SHOES: TARTAN


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!

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