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Where EAST meets the Northwest

SHOES TO DIE FOR. The Red Shoes, written and directed by Yong-gyun Kim and starring Hye-su Kim and Lee Uhl (Samaritan Girl and H), is part ghost story, part haunted-shoes story, and one terrifying trip for a mother and her daughter and the titular footwear that is not nearly as pretty as it looks. (Photos courtesy of Tartan Asia Extreme)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #30 (July 24, 2007), page 13.

Hardcore therapy for the shoe-obsessed

The Red Shoes

Directed by Yong-gyun Kim

Produced by Shin Changgil and Kwang-su Kim

Distributed by Tartan Asia Extreme, 2006

DVD, 103 minutes, $22.95

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

Hans Christian Andersenís dark, grim work typically receives a thick candy coating when adapted for American audiences ó Andersenís Little Mermaid dies at the end, for example, when her beloved prince marries someone else. Fortunately, Asian audiences have a much higher tolerance for gloom, doom, and blood, so Yong-gyunís sinister spin on Andersenís "The Red Shoes" hews closer to its maudlin original than anything Disney or its saccharine ilk could ever crank out.

Kimís 2005 South Korean horror film The Red Shoes is part ghost story, part haunted-shoes story, and one terrifying trip for a mother and her daughter and the titular footwear that is not nearly as pretty as it looks. Atmospheric, moody, bloody, and shocking, The Red Shoes springs off of Andersenís already awful premise to create a cross-generational story of greed, desire, and the things we do for the things we crave.

From the moment they appear on the screen, standing empty and lonesome on a subway platform, the red shoes (actually, theyíre pink, because Andersenís tale is known as "The Pink Shoes" in Korea) exude malevolence and draw a young schoolgirl towards them. Spooky music and jerky camera work warn us that she shouldnít, but ó as all good horror actresses do ó she takes them anyway, trying them on without evidently seeming to. Then her school chum violently wrestles them away from her, so she can wear them herself, and immediately wishes she hadnít.

No matter who lays eyes on the modest-seeming pink shoes, she must have them, and the results are equally horrible. The shoes soon find their way to the gaze of Sun-jae (Hye-su Kim), a woman caught in a loveless relationship, as even her young daughter Tae-su (Yeon-ah Park) prefers her cruel and haughty father to poor Sun-jae. The shoes become a way for her to feel better about herself, even though her husband thinks they donít suit her. When Sun-jae catches her husband in flagrante delicto with his lover (who is wearing Sun-jaeís precious shoes), she moves out with her daughter into a dingy apartment far away from the cruel husband.

The apartment, however, seems to be haunted, and little Tae-su develops an unhealthy obsession with the shoes, which are the only things that allow her to dance well. The shoes soon begin to drive mother and daughter even further apart, even when both learn the horrible fate of everyone who puts on those red shoes. They canít stop fighting over them, until they find they canít get rid of the fearful footwear at all.

Those who donít mind the idea of shoes possessing their owner ó Asian horror film fans can easily make this relatively minor leap ó will also be able to overlook the notion of a ballet performed in high-heeled red shoes. They will follow the twists and turns of the plot, tying in the old story with the new, and wonít mind being utterly surprised by the ending, either. Korean speakers might want to rent the original, unrated version, which has a longer, more complete (and, Iíve heard, more satisfying) ending, but no such version yet exists in English.

Everyone else might scratch their heads a bit at the brazenness of the final flourishes, but even hardened skeptics canít help but be entranced by the firm directorial hand of Kim and the stellar performances by Hye-su Kim and Yeon-ah Park. Park in particular will frighten anyone thrilled by a creepy girl sneaking around behind her motherís back, her hair curling and wild makeup suddenly appearing each time she wears those fateful shoes.

The Red Shoes will surprise and shock at every turn, even as it contains some fairly standard Asian horror elements: flickering fluorescent lights, gushers of blood, and sinister, faceless girls appearing and disappearing just in time to make you leap out of your own shoes. The result is a film no more faithful to Andersenís original than a sugary Disney remake, but this one will shock and disturb you much more than any cartoon girl ever could. Iíd even recommend it as fantastic shock therapy for shoe-obsessed friends ó watch it with them to rid them of their covetous habit forever.

The Red Shoes is available on DVD. To learn more about Tartanís Asian film offerings, visit <www.tartanfilmsusa.com>.