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May 05, 2007

The Red Shoes

red shoes 1.jpg

Kim Yong-Gyun - 2005
Tartan Video Region 1 DVD

There are times when it seems that certain titles should belong exclusively to one movie. I'm not even refering to remakes, but to films that share titles with established classics. When I see O Lucky Man I think of the film by Lindsay Anderson, and not a recent Thai comedy. I was startled and then amused to discover another Day of Wrath which bore no relation to the film by Carl Dreyer. The Korean horror film titled The Red Shoes has more in common with the films of the Pang Brothers than those of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. But there is enough in the new film to suggest that Kim is familiar with the work of The Archers. Kim does admit to being inspired, as Powell and Pressburger were, to the story by Hans Christian Anderson. To avoid confusion, I will refer to Kim's version by the Korean title.

Bunhongsin is about a cursed pair of shoes that bring out the worst in the women who find them. Kim's film centers on an optometrist and her pre-pubescent daughter. The sexual symbolism of the shoes is made obvious when both mother and daughter don red lipstick. That the mother sees her young daughter as a sexual competitor is indicated by two scenes reminiscent of Brian De Palma's Carrie when blood pours out between the legs of the terrified girl, and when a ceiling cracks open drenching the mother in blood. Kim's narrative also three scenes of sexual betrayal, one of which provides the back story to the curse of the shoes. The daughter is an aspiring ballet dancer. The origin of the red shoes takes place among ballet dancers in Japanese occupied Korea, in 1944.

red shoes 2.jpg

Kim makes use of lots of visual symbolism, ranging from a large Japanese flag with the red and white that used throughout the film, to having the optometrist office include a version of Rene Magritte's "False Mirror". Eyes also figure prominently in Bunhongsin. Two of the women are optometrists, while the main male character is an artist. The occupations are complementary as they both depend on the ability to see to do the work. Part of the film contrasts the act of seeing, and interpreting what one sees. In this film, the optometrists see a subjective reality because of the shoes, while the artist is the first to see the truth of the curse.

Bunhongsin succeeds in spite of itself. There are many of the trappings of other Asian horror films - lots of flickering lights, ghosts that suddenly drift in and out, a dilapidated apartment that people who should know better move into, and an explanation defies logic. What does work are the shots of empty subway stations, and the performances by the wide-eye Kim Hye-Su as the mother and precocious Park Yeon-Ah as the daughter. What Bunhongsin lacks in originality is compensated by Kim Yong-Gyun obvious craftsmanship. Much of Bunhongsin appears to be the results of genre requirements. The varied frames of reference to other arts, and the pyschological underpinnings of Bunhongsin indicate a thoughtfulness not often found in contemporary horror films.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 5, 2007 06:21 PM


I’m very glad to read your comment about this film, because I like this film very much. What I like the most about this film is the art direction. I think the film’s visual is very beautiful. I was stunned while watching it. And I think to make a horror film looks very gorgeous like this is not an easy task. To make a period costume drama looks very beautiful is much easier. I think that in this kind of horror film, the director must be very talented or else he would not be able to blend the darkness, the horror, the tense atmosphere, and stupendous colors all together as successfully as this.

I also think that Kim Hye-su’s performance is very satisfying, and THE RED SHOES is certainly much better than most Asian horror films. I even like THE RED SHOES more than WANEE AND JUNAH (2001), which is also directed by Kim Yong-gyun. WANEE AND JUNAH is a romantic film which some of my friends regard as their most favorite romantic Korean film ever. I think that most people wouldn’t be able to tell by themselves that these two films were directed by the same director. These two films are very different, but they just have one characteristic in common—each of them is one of the best films in their own genres.

I would have forgotten about the painting in the film if you didn’t mention it. As for Magritte, I just watched LA BELLE CAPTIVE (1983, Alain Robbe-Grillet) and found that this film also uses paintings by Magritte.

THE RED SHOES might be my most favorite Korean ghost horror film right now. I like it as much as A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003, Kim Ji-woon). I think A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is more perfect than THE RED SHOES, especially in the plot. But there’s something about THE RED SHOES which is more seductive to me. However, there is actually another Korean ghost film which I much prefer than these two films. It is UNINVITED (2003, Lee Su-yeon), but I don’t want to regard UNINVITED as a horror film. I think it might be called a very serious drama, because what I like the most about this film is how it portrays the modern urban life as very alienated. In this film, people are repulsed by each other, and there’s nothing better than committing suicide.

I haven’t seen THE RED SHOES (1948), but I have seen THE LINE, THE CROSS & THE CURVE (1994, Kate Bush), which is also about a pair of cursed red shoes. This film is like a well-done long-form music video.

As for confusing movie titles, the titles which cause problem for me the most are the variations of “ (THE, A) PROMISE(S)” and “GHOST(S)”. Sometimes I wish there were more creative and memorable film titles such as IN DANGER AND DIRE DISTRESS THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD LEADS TO DEATH (1974, Alexander Kluge). Hahaha.

Posted by: celinejulie at May 10, 2007 09:02 AM

I did see Kate Bush's film in a theater. Michael Powell is mentioned in the credits. A Tale of Two Sisters actually took me by surprise.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 10, 2007 11:35 PM