The Red Shoes

2005 / 108m - South Korea
The Red Shoes poster

Somehow my dislike of Korean films has never had much influence on my appreciation of Korean horror. It's considered a part of the Asian suspense wave but at the same time it's substantially different from its neighbouring countries. I never expect too much of these films, but watching The Red Shoes [Bunhongsin] was actually a very welcome surprise. While the film remains well within the boundaries of the genre, it proved one of the best outings out there.

screen cap from Bunhongsin

The thing that links most Asian horror films are the slender, pale ghosts with long, black hair draped in front of their faces. They aren't exactly lacking in The Red Shoes, but that's where the similarities end. While J-Horror often craves ugly ultra-realism and scares, their Korean counterparts are extremely stylized and fare on a solid dramatic base.

Underneath the horror lies a tale about adultery and the tough life of a single mother raising a young daughter, craving her dad. This core story is actually pretty well developed and receives its fair share of screen time. Above that lies a story about haunted shoes going after whoever tries to steal them from their rightful owner. And the curse itself is of course due to a tragic event in the past.

Like I said, if you've seen a few Korean horror films before, there's nothing that will shock or surprise you here. The films plays according to the genre rules and does little to cross those artificial boundaries. On the other hand, that's exactly why it'll be called a true genre film in 20 years time.

screen cap from Bunhongsin

So why all the fuss? Well, even though there are some small hick-ups, the presentation of the film is seemingly perfect. Visually the film is nothing less than impressive. The use of lighting is magnificent, with lots of flashing lights, toned-down colors, neon lighting and a Doyle-like choice of scenery, making this a very colorful film while remaining its dark edge.

Shots and framing are equally strong, with many strong images resulting in memorable scenes. The music is just as impressive, with many different choices of music, all of them suiting the scenes they are set to, always improving the intended atmosphere. The only critique lies in the editing, which could've been a bit tighter, and the range of styles and effects applied, making the style of the film a little too chaotic. But those are really just minor quirks.

screen cap from Bunhongsin

One thing to keep in mind is that The Red Shoes isn't exactly the most scary film out there. Maybe it's because I'm used to this kind of horror film by now, but don't expect many scares or extreme suspense. The tension is held well and the atmosphere is spot on, but The Red Shoes is probably better described as a tense supernatural thriller than a real horror movie. Not that it matters much, but it's often good to approach films like these with the correct expectations.

The ending is pretty cool (especially the short second ending), the film never bores, remains beautiful throughout and is just plain good at everything it tries and does. So if you're looking for an excellent genre film, The Red Shoes is probably a very good bet. Lush visuals, pretty score and a good solid story to drag you through the slower parts. Very nice surprise indeed.