I was a bit bummed as to not waiting to include the Powell-Pressburger film The Red Shoes into this month of films, however, I was able to find a film that I assumed only shared the name of the British classic in a South Korean film that I had been longing to see of the same name. While it is certainly not a remake, or a homage for that manner, it does appear to borrow heavily from the Anderson fairy tale of the original, particularly in the element of a pair of shoes being the jumping off point for an individuals descent into madness. While The Red Shoes is not the greatest South Korean film I have come across, it is not entirely an awful film to watch, although it is incredibly graphic and quite intense, dipping into some deeply scary imagery in its closing moments. Yet, even in its imperfections, it adheres to many of the experimental, non-linear, culturally provocative and revolutionary imagery that makes it such a fruitful national cinema to discuss. The film makes a perfect addition to this month of films because it makes considerable use of women in major roles, all be it, quite problematic ones, and does a great job of considering the negative manner with which vanity and a lust for consumer goods intrude upon women's attempts to navigate and already unwelcoming society. It is a film that makes sure viewers are aware of how mentally distraught the various characters are, drawing their problems from a variety of external forces as well as pent-up internalized issues. The filmic space explodes and clashes with the various issues as they relate the the individual and the collective within the film, often in highly expressionistic manners, while at other times being definitively grotesque. It is a film with a clear message, or call against, vanity and internalization of women's lack in regard to illogical male standards and does a masterful job of suggesting its generational transference, particularly when its issues are purposefully and problematically repressed. If it were not an already absolutely convoluted plot the insistence Yong-Gyun Kim, the inclusion of the singular panoptic eye into the narrative manages to make its theoretical execution marvelous.
The film focuses on Sun-jae (Kim Hye-soo) a woman who has just left her husband after discovering him to be cheating on her while she was taking their daughter to school. Frustrated and stunned, Sun-jae takes her and her daughter and moves into an apartment, hoping to make a new life, one that will have her find success opening an optical care center. Yet, when she returns home to pick up a few more items she also sees a pair of red (pink, if we are to be honest) shoes that she found on a subway. As she moves these shoes into her home, it becomes quite evident that they also bring a terrible past along with them, one that spirals Sun-jae into a state of mind filled with vanity and greed, finding it hard to navigate the world of caring for a daughter, opening a business and getting back into the dating world. Sun-jae's daughter, and eventually a friend of Sun-jae's fall victim to the curse of the red shoes, which leads Sun-jae's daughter to act out against her mother and for her friend to become possessed by an unseen spirit while admiring a wedding gown. Realizing the terrible problems that the shoes causes, Sun-jae attempts to discard of the shoes, only to have them return to her inexplicably, in some cases in the hands of her daughter, who spouts incoherent claims about a dead husband in the process. The fact that she is incapable of ridding herself of the shoes, leads her and her boyfriend to attempt to find the origin of the cursed footwear, leading to a realization that the shoes were tied to a young woman whose own abuses led to her death and resulting quest for some degree of vengeance. In the end, Sun-jae's inextricable attachment to the shoes mean that she must accept the death given to her at the hands of the vengeful ghost, which occurs in an intense and violent manner. The narrative then closes in on Sun-jae's daughter as she stares into a mirror practicing her dance moves, yet her darkened eyes and pale visage, suggest her own attachment to the curse as well.
Despite being a narrative complex film, there are some theoretical moments that draw upon ideas of exploitation and objectification that justify the film receiving my praise. Firstly, the deconstruction of consumerism and beauty myths as a problematic relationships is dealt with excellentlly, whether it be Sun-jae's own self-worth changing upon putting make-up on and appropriating Westernized beauty looks, or when her friend longs for a wedding-dress that is so skinny that it would prove unwearable to a much smaller person. Their own desires to appease their negative body image issues result in their very real destruction, an undeniable commentary on body dysmorphia and its negative affects in can place on women. Each woman, even the daughter, believe that by possessing the shoes they will somehow be able to comfortably navigate their respective spaces, even in the case of Sun-jae who simply wants to be admired by her father again, whose leaving she is far too young to truly conceptualize. Mirrors also factor heavily into the film, whether it be with Sun-jae's constant obsession with her blind eye for a considerable portion of the narrative, or her own daughter at ballet class lingering on her body perhaps longer than necessary, a likely result of the young age at which beauty ideals are thrust upon children. The eye, as a ever present figure also serves as a great metaphor within the film, in a panoptic, or all-seeing, manner the presence of the eye serves as a constant point of judgement for the women in the film, their looks and bodies always in question and constant judgement, even in their private spaces and internal thoughts. It is not an irony lost that Sun-jae's seemingly admiring and progressive boyfriend paints the eye, because even if he thinks himself a standup guy he, nonetheless, engages in objectification and openly considers Sun-jae's addition of makeup and Western beauty norms a good thing. It is a film brimming with beauty myth criticism and has a ton more to be read into upon later revisits.
Key Scene: When Sun-jae's sanity finally splits, the visual metaphor is fantastic and disconcerting and made the narratively complex movie come together magically.
This is likely a rental for most people, I will personally keep a copy for myself, but can easily understand doing otherwise.