THE RED SHOES (2005)
Director: Kim Yong-gyun
Run time: 1h 43m
Atmospheric horror uses the cursed item trope to deliver a tale of morality and revenge
It seems important to start with the first reaction of many audience members – the shoes are indeed not red. They are clearly pink. And no explanation is ever given.
While this colour-palette diversion seems to have ruined the film for many pedants, the more frustrating element is how a promising set-up and brilliant opening scene does not quite evolve into some truly great.
The Red Shoes is still a recommended upper mid-tier K-Horror, but it robs itself of greatest by not maintaining its opening pace and allowing a convoluted plot to offer too much distraction.
Kim Yong-gyun was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 fairy tale of same name, a common theme of K-Horrors using such source material, with other films including Cinderella (2006), Hansel and Gretel (2007), and The Piper (2015).
The Red Shoes is a film which bursts out of the blocks with an opening scene where it bears its horror chops in some style. A schoolgirl finds a pair of bright pink (!) shoes at the edge of a train platform late at night. She puts these fancy clogs on her feet, but is soon confronted by another schoolgirl who quite fancies them herself.
This girl manages to wrestle the shoes from the initial finder and swaggers off in victory. However, on the train concourse there is an ominous swooshing sound that sees the girl detached from the shoes... at her ankles. She tries to push herself away by the stumps, her screams bellowing through the station.
We then meet Sun-jae (Kim Hye-soo), who leaves her cheating husband and takes their daughter Tae-su to a new apartment.
She then finds a pair of bright pink shoes on the subway and takes them home. However, her best friend Kim Mi-hee (Go Soo-hee) takes the shoes and does not make it far before falling victim to the shoe’s curse. The shoes return to Sun-jae and she decides to rid herself of them. Something which proves trickier than it sounds.
There is plenty to like about The Red Shoes, chiefly some striking cinematography which stylishly handles the horror and makes the most of the film’s dark apartments and desolate train stations.
That cursed item idea is revisited so often because it does provide plenty of mystery to anchor a horror film.
Where the film stumbles is that not quite enough of the scares or gore seems to be consistently effective, certainly not as potent as that opening scene.
The labyrinthine plot attempts to do much, darting and dashing in various direction and then builds towards a pay-off that does not quite fill your pockets.
All K-Horror fans should have The Red Shoes on their watchlist and as part of a wider viewing experience of Korean horrors it must be respected despite its various narrative wobbles.
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