Asako in Ruby Shoes 순애보 (Sunaebo) [2000] • South Korea, Japan

This one seems a bit of an art-house diversion for director Je-yong Lee. A mildly bizarre, slow moving film that's half Japanese and half Korean. It aims at just the right level and ends up as a nice compromise between indie indulgence and commercial fare.

On the Korean side, Lee Jung-Jae stars as U-in, a bored, anti-social civil servant who passes time surfing porn on the Internet and silently stalking a young punkish girl with fiery red hair. While playing around on the Internet U-in clicks on a link that asks him to describe his ideal woman. He describes the punky girl.

On the Japanese side Misato Tachibana stars as Aya, a young woman who has decided to commit suicide with a twist: she wants to confuse the date of her impending death by holding her breath and suffocating as she crosses the International Date Line. She also desperately wants a pair of Ruby colored shoes. One thing leads to another and Aya is contracted by Internet porn purveyors to play the punkish girl, as described by their client U-in, on one of their webcam sites. Thus the persona of Asako is born.

The two disparate lives meet and wind the film up in a somewhat unbelievable fairy-tale style ending but it's been a strange ride getting there so no giant complaints. It's interesting to see a film that is half in Japanese and half in Korean. Much of the film deals with the theme of belonging and it allows for stretching that theme to something larger than just one culture.

The performances are all pretty solid. Fashionista superstar Kim Min-hee plays the punky girl. It's a small role, as she serves only as the inspiration for Asako, but it's catchy. Lee Jung-jae is spot on as the nerdball stalker. This is a better role for him than the studly type he played in Je-yong Lee's debut film An Affair. He's much better at nerdy innocence with a sense of creepy just below the surface than as a macho guy who is supposed to drive girls wild. Misato Tachibana brings just the right amount of cuteness and individual longing to Aya/Asako. She doesn't seem to have pursued her acting career ambitiously after this film but did well here.

The film has a slow pace and treats some of the edgier elements with a gentle touch. It never becomes darkly uncomfortable and that's it's charm. It's got quirky characters and a subtle, light sense of humor. Not completely art-house fair but certainly not mainstream. Recommended for those who like films slightly off the beaten path.

Director: Je-yong Lee
Starring: Misato Tachibana, Jung-Jae Lee, Urara Awata, Min-hie Kim, Ju-bong Gi

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