PictureIn keeping with many Asian releases, The Red Shoes has many flaws with its visual transfer that makes for a really bad reading in a review. However, let me stress that these problems do not ruin the film, or its atmosphere - they just disappoint when you know what this medium is capable of.
With an anamorphic 2.35:1 image, The Red Shoes displays remarkable inconsistency with regards to its clarity and detail. There is considerable grain present in some shots, whilst others are relatively clean and sharp. The contrast is too high, resulting in some daylight exteriors looking too harsh and some portions of the image glaring - Sun-jae looking for her daughter along the streets near the start, for example. Blacks can be good and solid - dark clothing and hair against much lighter backgrounds - and then, at other times, pretty bad - a lot of the spooky shadows are compromised by a hazy lack of depth and a few foggy patches of grain. Colours aren't really tested beyond the bright pink of the supposedly Red Shoes and the splashing of blood, but one of the flashbacks has some deep reds on the stage-set that reveal a fair bit of over-saturation and bleeding.
Whilst some close-ups are quite well-rendered - check out Sun-jae's passionate bruised lips in the scene where she has her own eyes tested to see what I mean - others are jeopardised by the swirling grain and some detracting elements of digital noise. There is also a slightly greenish tinge to a lot of the film, as well as a degree of edge enhancement and some aliasing. These unfortunate drawbacks can affect the film itself, in that Kim Yong-gyun's often clever and elaborate compositions tend to show up more of the visual defects the artier he tries to be.
So, as I say, despite all this The Red Shoes is still very watchable and can, at times, offer up an image that is quite striking.
SoundThis release comes with the best sound mixes that DVD has to offer, in both DTS-ES 6.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. Having listened to both - and finding each to be effective and rewarding - I have to hand it to the DTS (perhaps unsurprisingly) for the most immersive and dynamic design. It is exceptionally clear, with crisp high ends and beautifully deep, resounding bass levels. The jolting shocks are invariably accompanied by demonic acoustic flourishes and these stingers are quite awesomely served up. I found this to be quite a loud track, overall, so beware those quiet lulls in-between the action.
Steerage is done well, with many examples of realistic directionality. The ghostly footsteps pursuing the first victim through the subway corridors emanate from the rear right and possess a deliciously insidious echo. This sequence also has some nice front-to-back sonic rushes, too, with the moving wall of sound roaring past your ears and over your head. The bird that flies around the clinic is also smartly presented. Dialogue is always clear and perfectly audible, and there is absolutely no hiss or distortion on any of the tracks.
The sound design is quite intricate and dense, involving terrific use of ambience to add to virtually every scene - dripping water, the rattle of cutlery, footsteps and the sounds of the builders at work in the refurbished clinic. And, of course, the litmus test of a good old rainstorm split by thunder gets high marks, as well. The dance performance in one of the flashbacks provides a great all-speaker workout, with Taiko drums pounding all around the living room. I found that this soundtrack never does quite what you expect it to, with all manner of weird and wonderful effects scratching about within the aural landscape leading to a marvellously disquieting atmosphere. So, a pretty good track that can, by turns, be subtle and eerie, and then wildly aggressive. My advice, stick with the DTS-ES and crank up the volume.
ExtrasUnfortunately, all we get with this single disc edition is the original theatrical trailer. There is a 2-Disc Special Edition out there, though, which may well be the one to go after.
VerdictNot a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but The Red Shoes still offers plenty of atmosphere, a couple of intense performances and some startling imagery. The shocks are more than adequate and the theme of escalating paranoia and madness is skilfully evoked. As I mentioned earlier, it took a couple of viewings to convince me, but now I see the value in Kim Yong-gyun's unusual chiller and, despite a few “homages” paid to other Eastern horrors, I have no reservations about recommending it.
The AV quality is a hit and miss affair, though. The sound may be spot-on, but the picture leaves a lot to be desired. And the lack of extras? Well, there is that 2-Disc Edition, isn't there?
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