LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Caution Kids: Dancing in Red Shoes May Cause Death (or psychosis).

on January 24, 2013 2:14pm

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At the end of a comment I made on a blog post from last week, I happened to mention that Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Red Shoes (1845) was adapted into a horror film by South Korean director Kim Yong-gyun, who was inspired by Andersen’s tale. After I posted the comment, I actually watched the film and realized that this reimagining encapsulated a lot of the same themes as the fairy tale, and even subtly included moral messages.

The film revolves around a recently separated wife and her daughter. The mother (Sun-Jae) stumbles upon a pair of cursed pink high heels, which are so intriguing that she snatches them off of the subway platform and runs home with them. She soon comes to find out that her daughter (Tae-Soo) has become frighteningly obsessive over the shoes, which leads her mother to do some investigation of the cause of the shoes power. She then discovers that although the original owner of the shoes escape from harm, the person who takes them will die with their feet chopped off.

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Throughout the film, there is a lot of conflict between the mother and daughter. Tae-Soo knew about her father’s infidelity and immediately began to disobey her mother. The shoes, acting as a catalyst for Tae-Soo’s erratic behavior, push things farther (and add an essential horrifying element). The shoes also affect the character’s normal psyche by compelling them to act outside of their nature. The mother becomes more and more aggressive with her increasingly rebellious child.

Morality comes along after the shoes do the bidding. The shoes act in revenge against the “thief,” and forces them to repent for their sin (via payment by bloodshed). This is not too far from Andersen’s tale, which ends with young Karen having her feet chopped off by the executioner. Towards the end of the film, the mother realizes that this–in theory–inanimate object has warped her sense of priority: as a mother, as a friend, and as a human being.

Sun-jae: [Angry] Mommy loves Tae-soo very much… But mommy really hates when Tae-soo lies.
Tae-su: [Crying] It’s not a lie! Daddy really came! He said he’s too cold and to take him out!
Sun-jae: [Angry] Don’t lie to me!… I told you that daddy couldn’t come here. How can he? I told you he can’t come here, so how could he? How can he?… Why did you lie? Why did you lie?

I was overall impressed with how the film combined elements from a child’s fairy tale into a more adult themed movie. Although both versions can be considered “horror,” the familial themes and morals faced are still relevant today.

 

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2 responses to “Caution Kids: Dancing in Red Shoes May Cause Death (or psychosis).

  1. broatchlit says:

    I am glad you brought this film adaptation up as it is no surprise that a horror movie was based on a story like The Red Shoes. In the case of the Korean film, the pink high heels or “the red shoes” in this interpretation are actually cursed which completely invalidates Andersen’s initial motive of adding morals and consequences of being a spoiled brat. An important point of the film that actually adapted from Andersen’s story was the fact that the shoes were deadly tools and the only way to get rid of them was to amputate your own legs.

    Certainly, the film does have a rebellious child named Tae-su that seems to disobey her mother at some points, but one can conclude that she may still have feelings of guilt and misplaced anger after her parents’ abrupt separation. On the other hand, Karen lost her mother, but was raised by a wealthy adoptive mother which seems to have helped Karen get over her deceased mother. One could say that Karen completely forgot about her mother by abandoning the rough pair of shoes she had before being adopted for the new ones she obsessed over. Thus, Karen acted on her own account; she was spoiled and disrespectful to her adoptive mother by her own free will. Therefore, she was punished and the red shoes she loved so much were the tools used to teach her a lesson. At first, Karen idolizes her new red shoes, but towards the end she is adamant on getting rid of them to the point of getting her own legs amputated.

    On the other hand, the film version of the cursed shoes served as a plot point and the main reason the characters acted out. The shoes more or less “possessed” their host and warped their mindsets to become hysterical and deviant criminals. I believe the protagonist becomes obsessive, envious, and even greedy by being influenced by the cursed heels. So instead of the characters’ own actions and poor behavior leading to their demise with the help of the “shoes” they are obsessed over, the “shoes” are to blame according to the film adaptation. In essence, although a film is not always directly based on the original story, this film merely borrows the “red shoes” concept from Andersen’s story to convey it in a typical horror movie storyline.

  2. bkfining says:

    In this class and many other literature classes (specifically for children), a common topic of discussion is contemporary adaptation of traditional or classic tales. It is easy to see the prevalence of these tales in American television and cinema, because American culture is obviously very accessible to us. I think that your discussion of the South Korean adaptation of The Red Shoes is very interesting, as it brings to light an aspect of popular fairy tale culture that we do not often see in America. In our culture, it is common for modern adaptations of traditional tales to stray from their original didactic intentions and portray the child protagonists as empowered and heroic (such as recent releases Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters), which, as we discussed in class, has a lot to do with the heavy importance that our culture places on individuality and child empowerment. In other cultures, though, this is not the case. In the South Korean film industry, for example, many tales that America portrays lightheartedly are depicted in horror films. In addition to The Red Shoes, another example of this is the 2007 South Korean horror film Hansel and Gretel, directed by Yim Pil-sung, which I viewed in LIT 4331 last semester. Though this film has similar elements and themes to the traditional tale of Hansel and Gretel, such as direct allusions to the fairy tale (and others, such as The Red Shoes and Cinderella) and a common theme of child abandonment propelling the events of the story, it gets its point across in an entirely different and alarming way. I find it really interesting how societies read and interpret stories differently and adapt them to fit their own culture. I also find it fascinating that looking at drastically different “versions” of the same tale allow for a deeper analysis of its themes and motifs, since it permits the audience to dissect it from many different perspectives.

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