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'Red Shoes' horror flick lays bare the dangers of greed and desire

2005/06/30 Source

Fairy tales for kids are supposed to be amusing and intriguing. If a dose of morality is embedded subtly, their parents will surely like it. But not all fairy tales are dedicated to childish innocence: sometimes, they can be scary.

"Red Shoes", a horror film from young, up-and-coming director Kim Young-kyun, opens nationwide today and takes the form of a fairy tale, though the audience has to confront some bloody scenes and unnerving sound effects aimed at evoking chilling effects.

The heart of the tale revolves around a possessed pair of shoes, and is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's dark story "The Red Shoes", about a girl who hungers for a pair of shiny Red Shoes, forgetting her duties. When she finally acquires them, a magic spell keeps the girl dancing until she begs an executioner to hack off her feet.

The Korean title of the film is "Bunhongshin", literally, "pink shoes", and production notes say the reason for the change in color is to stress the shoes' seductive and multi-layered characteristics.

Seductive is an apt adjective when the tale unfolds in a way that generates both fear and curiosity. The main character, the beautiful Sun-jae (Kim Hye-soo) looks like a submissive woman with a six-year-old daughter named Tae-su (Park Yeon-ah).

But Sun-jae is not happy at all. She cooks meals for her husband diligently, but the atmosphere of the house is dreary and barren. Darkness embraces each and every corner of the house. Something is missing.

Then, her daughter vanishes. Sun-jae frantically hunts for her daughter, but what she eventually finds is not the safety of her daughter but her own fate.

How do the pink shoes get involved in all this melodramatic storytelling? The film starts with a scene where two high school girls wrangle over the pink shoes abandoned in the subway; this is unrealistic but, well, it is a fairy tale.

The key point is that the girls covet the beautiful shoes and fight to get the pair, no matter what. As in the original Danish fairy tale, greed breeds tragedy, and the film mercilessly shows the consequences.

Sun-jae's life is sucked into the sweeping rhythms of the pink shoes when she finds them, and is obsessed with their mysterious beauty. At the same time, her marriage falls apart when she discovers her husband is having an affair.

In Korea, it is not only immoral but also illegal to have an affair. You can get sued and be thrown into jail, a peculiarly moralistic system that often sparks heated debates about its merit and effectiveness.

Effective or not, under the system, Sun-jae becomes a divorcee and leads a life with her daughter. Apparently, she hasn't got enough money out of the divorce proceedings since her new apartment is dirty and filled with broken items and blinking lights.

Sun-jae tidies up the apartment and attempts to go about life as usual but the possessed pink shoes continue to spawn embarrassing incidents, one after another. Her way out comes only when she meets In-cheol (Kim Sung-soo), a handsome interior designer who cares about the loneliness of the divorcee.

The film's grand purpose of generating fear - this is the first movie in the summer's local horror movie lineup - gets bogged down as it incorporates another, not-so-persuasive story into the plot to explain why the pink shoes have the bewildering power to make people pursue their desire recklessly.

But the film manages to chug along, thanks largely to the admirable performance of veteran actress Kim Hye-soo, who has 18 years of acting uner her belt. And it helps that her belt size has shrunk.

Despite challenging and gory scenes, Kim holds up respectably and expresses the complex feelings of the main character with finesse, preventing the movie from falling into a trap of directionless dance -- yes, there are several ballet scenes.

Though the shoes in the film may not have the unstoppable magical effect of the original fairy tale, it will be intriguing to see whether pink shoes become a hot summer vacation item in Korea.

By Yang Sung-jin

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