When the movie beings we see a pair of pink woman's shoes (yeah, they're pink, not red, but it's really not that big a deal) sitting all by their lonesome on a subway entrance platform. Two women see the shoes at the same time and they start fighting over them until the subway inevitably shows up and carnage ensues. Cut to a ballerina dancing, cue the opening title scrawl, and Kim Yong-Gyun's The Red Shoes is off to an interesting, if unusual, start with a pretty memorable opening salvo.
From there we meet a woman named Sun-jae who, along with her daughter, Tae-soo, has just left her husband. He's a bit of a jerk, in fact she learns he's been unfaithful, and she's tired of dealing with him so she sets out on her own with daughter in tow. Thankfully she's an optometrist so she's not too bad off, financially speaking, in fact she's even got plans to open up her own shop. While investigating this idea a little further she strikes up a relationship with In-chul, the local interior design specialist. Their relationship moves pretty fast but soon she's distracted when she and her daughter start fighting over the shoes. This problem is resolved for them when a friend of Sun-jae's steals the shoes out from under her but other problems arise when that same friend is found dead with her eyes gouged out.
Strangely enough, the shoes have a way of showing up time and time again even when Sun-jae thinks that she's gotten rid of them for good. Anyone who seems to lust after them and try to possess them ends up in dire straits and she doesn't want anything to do with them once she figures this out for herself. The only way she can get rid of these cursed shoes, she figures, is to return them to whoever or whatever was their original owner.
While the idea of haunted shoes is a little hard to swallow at first, the shoes in question act as sort of a material comfort to Sun-jae while she's adjusting to her new life and trying to deal with the emotions that her decision to leave her husband has brought on. To make herself feel better and distract herself from the day to day grind, she buys herself shoes – it helps her self esteem and boosts her moral, even if it is fleeting. If you can accept that and get that much out of the setup, then the shoe motif actually ends up working quite well. It's not all that uncommon to see people contest one another over the last 'hot ticket item' at a mall so it isn't that far of a stretch for the characters in the film to be fighting over the titular shoes, when you could just as easily swap those same shoes for whatever the trend happens to be at the time you watch the film. The shoes are more of a metaphor or a symbol than anything else.
The storyline is decent and the characters are interesting but sadly we don't get to know anyone all that well, even Sun-jae. This hurts the movie a little bit as the scare scenes, of which there are many, don't have the same impact as they would have if the audience had been able to invest a little more of themselves into the lead characters. On the other hand, even if the long haired evil female ghost has been done to death at this point in the game, some of the jump scares do work exceptionally well and the movie does have atmosphere and style to spare. Everything looks fantastic here and the cinematography is creative and unique. Certain shots use certain unusual angles and the visuals do keep you on your toes even if the characters aren't that interesting despite the best efforts of the performers in the roles.
Aside from some mild trailing in a few scenes in the darker moments of the film, Tartan's 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite good. The black levels, which play an extremely important part in the effectiveness of certain scenes in this film, stay deep and strong and don't break up or pixelate at all. There is some moderate line shimmering in a couple of scenes but there aren't any issues with mpeg compression artifacts or serious edge enhancement. Color reproduction appears lifelike and accurate and there's a reasonably decent level of fine detail in both the foreground and the background of the image. Skin tones look healthy and realistic when they're supposed to and creepy the rest of the time, and overall the picture is generally quite sharp. Print damage is never a problem and the image is nice and clean.
The Korean Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS 5.1 Surround Sound tracks on this DVD are decent. The dialogue and sound effects are nice and clear and there's enough power in the lower end to make for a few decent jump scares throughout the film. During the scenes where the ghost audibly manifests through the speakers in the radio station the surround channels really kick in and add some nice and very effective atmosphere to the movie. The levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with the performers getting buried in the sound effects or in the background score. Optional subtitles are supplied in both English and Spanish and they prove to be clean, clear, and easy to read and free of any noticeable typographical errors.
The main extra features is a full length commentary track from the director, Kim Yong-Gyun and the cinematographer, Kim Tae-Kyung. They speak in Korean but optional English subs are there to translate and if you're into technical commentary tracks you'll probably enjoy this one. There's a little bit of interpretation here and there and some interesting stories about the making of the movie and the cast but the bulk of the time is spent covering how certain shots were set up and arranged and why in addition to why certain things were done with the sound mix in certain scenes.
There is also a The Making Of The Red Shoes featurette and A Look At Visual Effects featurette found here. These give you more of a feel for how the picture was put together as a whole in that some of the performers show up here and we get a look behind the scenes while the movie was in production. These compliment the commentary track well, as with this material alongside it we get a well rounded examination of what went into the production.
Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for The Red Shoes, trailers for other Tartan Asia Extreme releases, animated menus, chapter stops for the feature and a still gallery.
While The Red Shoes relies a little too heavily on some tried and true clichés of the Asian horror genre, it does at least try to push those clichés in a different direction than some of its kin has in the past. It's not a perfect film but it's an interesting one and it's got some decent scares. Tartan's disc looks and sounds quite nice and contains a few decent supplements of note, making this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.