Resurrection Of The Little Match Girl (South Korea 2002)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 12/6/03
Cast: Eun-kyeong Lim, Hyun-sung Kim

Where does reality end and fantasy begin? "Resurrection Of The Little Match Girl" raises this question but never answers it, forcing the viewer to make their own conclusions. Unfortunately, the film is so vague and bizarre that coming to any sort of conclusion is difficult and requires multiple viewings. Ju (Hyun-sung Kim) is a pathetic loser who works as a Chinese food delivery boy. In his free time, he hangs out at the local video game arcade and longs for the cute clerk (Eun-kyeong Lim) who works there. He and his best friend get sucked into playing a video game called "Resurrection Of The Little Match Girl" where the object of the game is to let the little match girl of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale (again Eun-kyeong Lim) freeze to death while dreaming only of the player. But is it just a game?

The film intentionally blurs the line between the real world and the game world, making you wonder if anything is real at all. While I'm sick and tired of people always comparing movies to "The Matrix" (1999), "Little Match Girl" blatantly rips it off in several places, including bullet dodging effects, agents of the system in black suits and dark glasses, and Ju's destiny to be "the one" who breaks the system. Thematically the film has much more in common with Mamoru Oshii's "Avalon" (2001), and stylistically "Nowhere To Hide" (1999) comes to mind.

The majority of the film revolves around everyone's attempts to win over the Little Match Girl's heart, which are punctuated by outrageous gun fights and quirky humor. The action scenes have a very strong Hong Kong feel to them, but the execution and editing are lacking. Gratuitous wire stunts have become an industry-wide plague, and "Little Match Girl" has plenty to spare. While the video game setting makes it a little easier to accept people flying through the air, the biggest question still remains - why are they flying through the air? Modern filmmakers seem to totally miss this point, doing things because they can, not because they should. Also, the biggest difficulty with doing wire stunts is making them look natural, graceful, and believable. Even though digital technology allows for visual wire removal, often the end result still looks like a puppet being yanked around on strings, which ruins the desired effect.

The film certainly has an interesting look, and uses a wide range of colors and color effects. The most disturbing color effects are when blood appears to be green, which I suppose just further enforces the surreality of the film's setting. Annoying editing effects are applied throughout the film, from sped up chase scenes, to jerky dropped frame sequences, to rapid shifts in perspective. Again, I just have to ask "why?" as the techniques only disrupt the suspension of disbelief. The rest of the visual effects are a mixed bag of good and bad, but to my jaded eye, nothing seems to really stand out as being impressive, interesting, or unique.

Unfortunately, the film's biggest flaw is that the main character (Ju), is totally unlikable. Sure, he's a pathetic loser and I can appreciate that, but he does absolutely nothing to endear himself to the audience, and by the time he becomes Superman at the end of the film, no one cares. On the other hand, the little match girl is wonderful, and the scenes of her erupting into dispassionate outbursts of violence make the whole film worthwhile. While I was initially turned off by the film the first time I watched it, subsequent viewings have been far more enjoyable, as bizarre little details shine through and more layers are peeled away from the story. Definitely a film for the art crowd and for those who like to have philosophical discussions about symbolism and heady science fiction films.