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Body count: 5
Entertainment factor: 3/5
Eek factor: 3/5
Ooh factor: 1/5
Ouch factor: 3/5
Film Elements
  • complex plot
  • Creepy Crawly Craptosis
  • cursed object
  • ghosties
  • gore
  • revenge
A lot of movies--even a ballet--have been based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Red Shoes”. Bunhongsin is one of the most recent of such. While I am not well-versed enough in other adaptations to make a valid comparison, Bunhongsin must certainly be able to hold its own against the other classics.

The story begins as one might expect. Two girls find a pair of vivid pink shoes in the subway. Girl #1 grabs them, Girl #2 steals them away. After some semi-creepy flickering lights, music, and whooshing noises, Girl #2 topples to the ground, her feet off at the ankles.
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Flash to Seon-Jae and her failing marriage. Life isn’t going well for Seon-Jae. Her husband doesn’t appreciate her and her daughter, Tae-Soo, prefers the father to the mother. All she really has to enjoy is her extravagant collection of shoes--and even those get tainted when she catches her husband in adultery.
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Contrary to the expectations of society, Seon-Jae lights out of there, taking her shoes and her daughter with her. She’s a successful eye doctor--she can support herself. She rents a small apartment while she waits for her new clinic to open. The interior designer seems like a jerk at first, but she gradually warms up to him. She even finds a spiffy pair of pink heels in the subway that fit perfectly. Everything is looking up, right? Nope.
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All is still not peachy. Seon-Jae starts having horrible hallucinations, often involving her daughter and/or gallons and gallons of blood. Everyone who sees her new pink shoes wants them, especially Tae-Soo. They want them badly enough to steal them or fight Seon-Jae for them. Even worse, Seon-Jae wants to keep them badly enough to wrestle with her own daughter. If Seon-Jae tries to get rid of the shoes, they return. As if that wasn’t enough for a single mother to deal with, those who manage to get away with the shoes meet ugly deaths.
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While the police are questioning Seon-Jae about some recent murders (some sicko who cuts off feet must be on the loose, they think), she recognizes the distinctive shoes in an advertisement. The photo of the woman, it turns out, is from the forties; it’s old enough that no one knows who she is. Seon-Jae realizes that the pink shoes--and their curse--may go farther back than she had imagined.
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What’s with the woman from in the ad? Are the shoes really cursed? If so, can the curse be broken? More importantly, can the characters’ relationships ever be repaired?

Of course, the first question to strike everyone: If it’s called The Red Shoes, why are the shoes pink? Actually, the Korean title translates to Pink Shoes because, as the Twitch film review points out, the red shoes in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale have always been pink in Korea. (The cultural reasons for this do not matter as much as the filmmakers’ decision to continue with the pink shoe tradition, in my book.) Many have pointed out that “red shoes” refers to the blood and gore that the shoes are soaked in. This still doesn’t answer fully answer the “why?” of “why pink instead of red?” I agree with these other opinions, and add this: the colour pink is distinctively associated with femininity and innocence. (Though the fact that the shoes only directly affect women is just as much due to the fact that they are women’s heels.) The innocence of the pink shoes makes their carnage into an even greater contrast.
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Bunhongsin does a good job of focusing on the shoes instead of the ghostie, differentiating it from other cursed-object horror movies. (Take, in contrast, the classic Ringu, where the real focus is Sadako, not the videotape--or even the Korean Pon.) Sure, there are a few stock rotting arms coming from off-screen to grab characters, but you’ll be on the edge of your seat waiting for the shoes to appear, not a ghostie. You’ll flinch whenever you hear the sound of someone walking in heels. You’ll flinch whenever you see someone’s ankles. Feet will never be the same.
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When trying to figure out the ending, remember that history follows a pattern in this film: Oki have. Keiko want. Keiko take. Oki get revenge. Interestingly, the film could have used this plot point to make a Korea versus Japan statement, but it does not. One must wonder why the source of the curse is Japanese. Perhaps a salute to previous hit Japanese horror movies? Or a way to make the curse come from outside Korea, just like the original story of the red shoes?
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And when the credits start rolling, pay attention--I wasn’t expecting anything unusual, and got a bigger start than anything else in the movie! (Actually, what comes after will help clarify the ending of the film, so do pay attention.)
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The acting is good, especially on Park Yeon-Ah’s part. (Acting is always a toss-up with children.) Kim Hye-Soo plays a believable, likeable woman in distress. Lee Eol’s Sung-Joon is a little bland, but his character doesn’t have a big part, and we’re not supposed to like him anyway. It’s not too distracting.

If you’re looking for gore, Bunhongsin won’t satisfy you. If you’re looking for an involved plot with supernatural revenge thrown in for good measure, you ought to like this film. It’s of the sort that must be watched more than once to make the most sense, and it’s enjoyable every time through.