I'm a real sucker for Asian horror (J & K mostly, C & T should probably stick to martial arts movies) but like the slashers and 'torture porns' of the West, a solid decade of profit-minded genre strip mining has boiled things down to the stale mush of familiarity. By now the tropes are just as well established as the horny teens, final girls, and creative kills of the Friday the 13th franchise. Pale, creepy-eyed spirits with long black hair over their faces float around uncomfortably close to terrified faces, while jump scares accompany every reflective surface and cramped, over-the-shoulder camera angle. The plots inevitably drift towards either traditional ghost-story spookiness, or 21st century techno-terror of the viral variety.
2005 Korean creeper, The Red Shoes, waffles a bit between the two story types for variety, but in spite of being a technically solid entry in the classification, it never emerges from the shadows of the superior films it seeks to emulate. Ostensibly based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, the film follows the hapless exploits of saucer-eyed beauty Sun-jae (Kim Hye-su) who walks in on her philandering husband one day and ends up in almost the exact same situation as the heroine of J-Horror standard Dark Water. (Becoming a single mother with a shitty apartment.)After an eerily effective pre-credits sequence (which later gets shoehorned into the main story, tearing open a massive, unexplained plot hole) and the aforementioned familial strife, the shoe obsessed Sun-jae discovers an enthralling pair of pink high heels abandoned on the subway and claims them for herself. It becomes quickly apparent that the shoes have supernatural powers, causing the various women who come into contact to become unnaturally obsessed. Almost immediately, Sun-jae's daughter Tae-soo falls under their spell, and the two girls bicker viciously over the pumps' ownership. To make matters worse, the various secondary characters who steal or otherwise wear the shoes begin meeting horrific, foot amputation related deaths.
If you are already an Asian horror junky, or if you want to dive into the genre from a different spot than the crowds, you could do far worse than The Red Shoes. It boasts decent acting and effective scare sequences. The cinematography is fair to excellent, with lots of blues and grays for the evil fuschia footwear to 'pop' against and very liberal use of CG depth of field effects. Locations are also excellent, contrasting the sterile, vaguely futuristic Seoul subway system with the lead's dilapidated apartment complex.
The problem is that almost everything in the story can be traced back to a better (or at least earlier) film. It's got a Ring-esque cursed object that supernaturally spreads itself through the population, the previously discussed marital and maternal difficulties, and thanks to the increasingly exploitative Ju-on series, it is now nearly impossible to think of original ways for the pale skinned, black haired ghosts to sneak up on people. (Don't take Japanese/Korean elevators at night, kids.) Even the fugue state twist at the end is straight out of A Tale of Two Sisters, Spider Forest, or anything by Charlie Kaufman's fictional brother.
It's on Netflix Instant Watch, so it's not like you have anything to lose. Watch it here.
Ebola Syndrome (Herman Yau, 1996)
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