During the last few years, Americans have been cinematically inundated with the J-horror movement. After the rousing success of The Grudge, Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon, swamping the pop culture marketplace with original Asian horror films on DVD (The Eye, directed by the Pang Brothers, technically from Bangkok via Hong Kong, arguably initiated American interest in the subgenre; unfortunately, The Messengers may represent the demise of their respective American careers), and subsequent pompous American theatrical bastardizations like The Grudge series and Dark Water. With the recent success of The Host, culturally repressed South Korea, suddenly a cinematic upstart, has decided it wants a piece of the pasty-faced pie, and along with the admirable work of Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, 3 Extremes), several new Korean horror films have recently arrived on DVD, although some leave an unpleasant J-horror aftertaste.
The Red Shoes (very, very loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, much like Last House on the Left is very, very loosely based on Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) is a recent effort from Korea, directed by Yong-gyun Kim. It involves a pair of bright pink shoes that inspire feelings of covetous envy in anyone who views them. After discovering her husband has been cheating on her, Sun-Jae takes her young daughter, Tae-Soo, and relocates to a dreary, fairly uninhabitable apartment. Sun-Jae finds the pink shoes on the subway and immediately grows attached to them. Tae-Soo also desires the shoes, and being an obnoxious pre-adolescent daughter, she fights constantly with her mother over her desire to possess them.
The allure of the shoes has a flip side: anyone who steals them is prone to die soon, usually with foot amputations involved. Once the heinous secret of the “red” shoes is discovered, Sun-Jae engages in a listless and poorly paced romance with the interior decorator who lives upstairs, and together they attempt to solve the mystery of the shoes, to understand their violent history. People steal the shoes, they die, and then the shoes reappear the next day, and Sun-Jae is eager to stop this heinous legacy.
The Red Shoes, although occasionally poorly paced, features striking cinematography and plot machinations that are all over the map and sometimes confusing. The film hints at a big twist in the final third, but that twist is vague in its delivery and ultimately frustrating. The film is spattered with familiar J-horror imagery—pale-faced Asian girls with their hair hanging in their respective faces, ghosts that only the audience can see—but it still manages to stand up as an impressive entry in the genre. The gore was solid and stylish, and the film proudly sported a few very bloody scenes. The look and feel of the movie is modern, the scares are there to be had, and I have to admit, I was dying to know how it all ended, even if I was a little overwhelmed by the ambiguous final twist.