Man on High Heels movie review

Brutal cop, Yoon Ji Wook (Cha Seung Won) finally decides to quit his job and make the transition to becoming a woman. This sets off a chain of events that leads to tragedy and non-stop stabbing.

Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: ★★
Only 만: ★★

Side Dish: Soy has been called a dangerous food for men, because it “has the power to undermine everything it means to be male” according to Men’s Health. Ji Wook might be interested in consuming a ton of soy, and can do so through Korean soybean sprouts. The recipe for Kongnamool can be found here.

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Only 만: So, I guess it’s my turn to apologize for suggesting we watch this movie.

Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: Actually, at the beginning of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised. Based on the premise, I thought Man on High Heels would be a disaster, and an embarrassment for everyone involved. It turned out to be surprisingly sympathetic towards transgender people.

Only: I thought so, too. It wasn’t until the movie devolved into pointless tragedy and non-stop stabbing that it lost me. But, let’s rewind, and talk about what we liked.

Junggugeo Kaenada: Cha Seung Won’s depiction of the transgender cop, Ji Wook was dignified and believable. After impressive displays of violence, Cha Seung Won managed not to look like a caricature of a drag queen when she dressed up as a woman.

Man_on_High_Heels_1

Only: I appreciated that neither the director nor Cha Seung Won played those scenes for laughs, but instead, gave Ji Wook a quiet and shy dignity, which was completely at odds with the violent way she lived as a man. Thanks to commenter Samantha for letting us know to use the female pronoun even when Ji Wook presents as a man (see below).

I thought the film also had a great visual style.

Junggugeo Kaenada: Yes, the cinematography helped contribute to the sober approach to the story. Though, the musical score was another matter. I sense that we are now easing into the myriad of problems we had with this movie, many of which I did not foresee.

Only: To start with, I found the tone very muddled, like the movie wasn’t sure what it wanted to be and they hadn’t quite worked out the kinks in the story. As an example, when the younger gangster, Heo Gon (Oh Jung Se) goes on his final vengeful rampage, I couldn’t figure out how we got there, since he had no clear reason for doing it. It was a total disconnect, not only in the story, but with the earlier, more light-hearted tone. And, the ending was a complete fizzle.

Junggugeo Kaenada: Well, we started repeatedly checking how much running time was left, in the last 40 minutes of the movie. This was because Man on High Heels started devolving into a predictable tragedy to the point where we could identify who would die next. And, since the practice of non-stop stabbing had been established, we became squeamish about what we would be forced to watch before the end came.

Only: Yes. I’m going to mention a major spoiler here, so stop reading if that bothers you.

I think the only thing we didn’t manage to predict was that Ji Wook would survive. Personally, I thought this muddied the tone even more. After driving into tragedy, it was weird to have the movie make a U-turn, and end up nowhere, especially since it wasn’t clear why we ended up at tragedy in the first place.

Junggugeo Kaenada: I found the ending very baffling. It did not make sense that after her brush with death, Ji Wook would decide to stay in the closet. And, if she was going to backpedal, the story would have been more tragic if she ended up marrying his first love’s sister. Then, the mask would have been complete.

Only: Agreed. It would have made more sense if she’d picked one side or the other. Instead, she says goodbye to her high heels as she escapes the final fight, but again, we’re never given a clear reason. If she’d survived, there was nothing to stop her from continuing what she started.

In fact, the film’s problem seemed to be that it couldn’t decide whether it was about Ji Wook’s battle with the lame villain, Heo Gon, or with her own personal demons, and that’s what left us with this messy ending.

Junggugeo Kaenada: I am sad to say that this is not a movie that I would recommend. It was very brave of everyone involved to release a serious depiction of a transgender cop in the middle of the summer blockbuster season. On a positive, but superficial note, Cha Seung Won was smoking hot as a man, and surprisingly agreeable as a woman.

Only: Agreed on all counts. Male or female, fantastic abs are fantastic abs.

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11 Comments

  1. Is that him in the last photo? he makes a beautiful woman. This is a film I would not have watched I do not care for violence. But I love CSW and was curious. You have saved me the trouble of watching it.

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  2. i hope this post is still active coz im quite confused on how it ends. i don’t think he is the groom. coz the girl ask him to be present in the wedding. why would she invite him if his the groom. doesnt make sense aaaargggh

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  3. Just finished the movie…Do you think it could be possible that he actually died in the taxi and he is now in hell where he remains a man forever which would be his ultimate torture. Rewatch the end a character from earlier on in the movie makes an appearance that’s very coincidental..

    Side note: (Maybe there’s a deeper meaning to the reason why the director placed him at a church. Could it be possible he is at his own funeral?)

    If he did survive then why would he still be dressed like a man .. I think he would rather put back on the heels if it killed him inside everyday to be something he wasn’t

    Just a theory. Definitely something to ponder.

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  4. Greg, I think that it is actually the opposite. The only real part is at the end and the Detective story and the fighting and agony are all a pretend metaphor for the struggle a transgender person goes through when they suppress their true self. The feelings of trying to protect this woman he loves, while knowing more and not disclosing. The conflict between wanting to be a woman and feeling he needs to live up to a tough guy image. The disappointment of friends, the various permutations of masculine stereotypes, the conflicted sexuality and the self harm, are all well in line with the trans experience. The stabbing is a pretty obvious phallic motif. And then add to that the whole back alley surgeon, the unrealistic hormone shots, it’s all kind of dreamlike.

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  5. Interesting!
    Im not sure about the end..
    I can not believe he survived (if it wasnt a metaphoric dream) and I didnt understand the person he nodded to? Was that the girl who put make up on him?
    Ugh 🤔🕵🏽🙀😩

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  6. Sorry to dig this up from so long ago, but does anyone happen to know the name of the classical guitar song in the taxi scenes? I love it, but cant find it anywhere. I wanted this movie to be so much more, and it was pretty depressing at the end. Thanks in advance

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  7. Thanks for the review as a trans woman I always have to check to make sure I am not getting ready to watch poorly disguised antitrans rhetoric whenever there is a trans character. As far as pronouns the main character character is a woman so use she pronouns even when she isn’t presenting as such. Also more of a silly pet peeve but its transgender people not transgendered its an adjective and thus tenses do not apply to it. The again

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