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Silk Shoes

Kim Da-Hye, Choi Duk-Moon, and Min Jung-Gi in Silk Shoes.
Year: 2006  
Director: Yeo Kyun-Dong  
Producer: Yeo Kyun-Dong  
  Cast: Choi Duk-Moon, Lee Sung-Min, Min Jung-Gi, Kim Da-Hye
  The Skinny: A film director is pressured into staging an elaborate hoax on behalf of a gangster's aging father in Silk Shoes, an engaging, often funny tale about fathers, sons, and one old man's wish to get back home.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      If recent films like JSA, Shiri, Taegukgi, and Welcome to Dongmakgol are any indication, North and South Korean relations seem to be an issue not far from the minds of South Korean filmmakers. Director Yeo Kyun-Dong is no exception, as his latest film, Silk Shoes, deals directly with one of the many unfortunate legacies of the Korean War - the untold number of North Koreans who were cut off from there homeland when war broke out.
     Vaguely reminiscent of Germany's Goodbye, Lenin! and the more recent Korean revamp, A Bold Family, this 2006 production focuses on one old man's desire to return to North Korea and make peace with the ghosts of his past. The problem is, unfortunately, that when Old Bae (Min Jung-Gi) finally arrives up North, some of the scenery just doesn't look right. Although lots can change in fifty-plus years, that's actually not the problem. No, the real reason is that he's still in South Korea; he just doesn't know it. How could something like this happen? Well, it turns out the old man has been set up, although in this particular case, it's done with the best of intentions.
     Silk Shoes begins by introducing the audience to harried director Park Man-Soo (Choi Duk-Moon, from Antarctic Journal and YMCA Baseball Team. It seems Man-Soo's last film didn't do so well financially, and as if that weren't bad enough, a couple of gangsters show up to collect on the debt. Although Man-Soo tries to explain that he's an artist and therefore isn't the one who handles the money, the gangsters are undeterred. Expecting the worst, Man-Soo eventually comes face-to-face with the big boss man of the organization, who gives our hapless director a chance to make good on the debt. It seems that the gangster has a father afflicted with Alzheimer's and wants nothing more than to fulfill his old man's wish to return to North Korea. One catch: there's no way to travel to North Korea without official permission. So instead of going through the proper legal channels, Man-Soo is ordered to fake a trip to North Korea and take lots of pictures, dressing areas of South Korea to look like his old hometown near Gaema Plateau.
     To accomplish this deception, Man-Soo holds auditions and hires actors that he'll use and re-use during the day's trip. It's a difficult task, but "helping" matters is Bae's mental condition. Simply put, he's delusional, often unable to differentiate between fact and fiction. At one point, he has an argument with his dead Korean wife, and consistently mistakes Man-Soo for his own good-for-nothing son. Joining Man-Soo on this journey is Seong-Chul (Lee Sung-Min) a stoic, violence-prone gangster and a young Chinese-Korean actress (Kim Da-Hye), who try to make sure everything runs smoothly. Slowly, but surely, all the players become united in their cause to deliver a satisfying return trip for this one lonely old man.
     Although it plays out like a comedy in terms of setup and tone, Silk Shoes has quite a few genuinely touching moments. Unlike some other Korean films, it handles tonal shifts with grace, segueing between the comic and the tragic with a natural ease, a quality that more demanding audiences will likely appreciate. At one point, the senior citizens in old Bae's community mistakenly believe that he and Man-Soo will indeed visit North Korea. Hoping to take advantage of this opportunity, they give VHS tapes, cards, and other messages to Man-Soo in the hopes that he'll pass them along to the family members that these elderly folks left behind. Later in the film, a VHS tape is played which features an old woman speaking of the sister she hasn't seen in years and her desire to someday reunite with her. This brief segment is a real tearjerker (and plays out as if it were authentic, real-life footage), putting a human face on the issue of displaced North Koreans.
     Another compelling aspect of the film is its choice of protagonists, as the makers of Silk Shoes go the "unlikely hero" route in casting their leads. At first, Man-Soo and Seong-Chul seem like nothing special character-wise, but as a grudging respect develops between them, these two characters begin to come alive, especially when they finally put aside their differences and try to make the old man's dream come true - not because they were forced to, but because of their newfound loyalty to this very sad, sick old man.
     While the ending of Silk Shoes is a bit confusing, even unsatisfying, in a sense, overall, I found that the film had some interesting things to say about a ton of issues: the importance of memories, the relationship between fathers and sons, North/South tensions in modern Korea, the blurring line between fact and fiction, and ultimately, the fate of these displaced citizens and the lives they were cut off from in the North. A more commercially-oriented film might have gone for prettier people and a sexier plot, but there's something about Silk Shoes that's undeniably sharp: it's sincere without being nave, serious without being pretentious, and somehow whole without giving us absolute, reassuring closure. All in all, it's a fine little film. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / 2.0
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen