Being an avid lover of all things produced by PALISADES/Tartan, when I saw this title on LoveFilm I couldn’t resist trying it out. Inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of the same name, this Korean horror directed by Kim Yong-gyun (The Sword with No Name, Reset) is a cinematically striking tale of vanity, materialism, and female jealousy. The motif of the cursed red shoes is still there, and so is all of the gratuitous blood and violence. Young-Hyun does a fantastic job at bringing this 19th century story to 2005, however the film is not without it’s flaws. Firstly, the shoes are hot pink, not red at all. Secondly, there are some rather confusing plot mechanics and twists, but I will get on to that.
The first scene depicts two high school girls fighting over the hot pink heals that have been left in an empty subway. Each of them insists that they saw the shoes first and go to great lengths to claim them, physically beating each other down. The victor of the fight trots away victorious, feeling cute in her new shoes. Suddenly she is knocked down by an unseen force. She looks down at her feet and with a piercing scream sees that they have been cleanly removed and all that is left are two bloody stumps. Two grisly trails of blood lead from her mangled legs to wherever it is that the malevolent force has taken the cursed heals. This is in the first ten minutes of the film. You know that those shoes are seriously bad news.
The rest of the film follows Sun-jae and her young daughter Tae-su after she discovers that her husband is being unfaithful. Sun-jae finds the shoes in a subway car, and that’s when everything starts going immensely wrong. She quickly becomes obsessed with the shoes when she uses them to pull the rugged builder working on her new studio. Things do not stay rosy for long however as she becomes haunted by ghostly visions and grows insanely jealous of anyone else who tries on the shoes. This includes her best friend, who’s gruesome death will please all hardcore gore fans, and her daughter Tae-su, who becomes fatally attached to the shoes with stomach-churning consequences.
Alongside the main plot, sometimes in the nightmare narrative, is the shoes’ origin story. It’s a visually beautiful but very confusing anecdote about a couple of 14th century ballet dancers, who are somehow connected to the weird old woman who lives in the basement. The film worsens as attention is turned away from the main plot to focus on history- ties become tenuous and you almost stop caring about the characters in the present day. The final twist in the last few minutes of the film is predictable and does not add anything to the overall storyline.
All in all I would give it 3/5 stars. Creepy, bloody, with some moments that made my heart jump in my throat, The Red Shoes undoubtably suffers for a slack plot and some classical horror clichés. A good one for Tartan fans, but I would recommend starting with something like A Tale of Two Sisters or Whispering Corridors for a better introduction to Korean horror.