Sun-Woo Jang’s “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl” is one of the most intriguing failures I’ve come across in a long time. It’s about a food deliveryman who, in what can only be described as a “computer simulation in place of the real world”, gets to live out his fantasy of being a tough guy who must rescue the damsel in distress. The computer damsel is represented by a real young woman who our hero is hopelessly enchanted with, but is unable to approach because, well, he’s a dork.
Hyun-sung Kim, last seen sleepwalking through the first movie ever made for insomniacs, “My Beautiful Days”, returns to sleepwalk through “Match Girl” as Joo. Calling Joo hapless is too kind; the guy is really more pathetic than anything else. After his buddy Lee wins a gaming tournament and becomes famous, Joo thinks he can win the same fame and fortune (and in theory, win over that girl he’s been stalking — er, eyeing). Along with many others, Joo joins a computer-simulated game where players have to seek out, rescue, and then get a Little Match Girl (Eun-kyeong Lim) to “dream about them as she dies.” Or some such nonsense.
“Match Girl” is reportedly the highest-budgeted South Korean film in history, beating out 1999’s “Shiri” for that particular honor. The high price tag has not paid off because the movie is a spectacular failure in its native South Korea, and I get the sense that people are starting to whisper the title “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl” the way Americans whisper the title “Hudson Hawk” and every film done by Kevin Costner post-“Dances with Wolves.” The film was a flop and there’s a good reason why. It’s not that the movie is bad, it’s just not terribly good.
The movie is essentially a big-budget showcase for director Sun-Woo Jang, who has gotten it into his head that he wants to make a movie that parodies the self-importance of big-budgeted blockbusters ala “The Matrix”. Of course no one has bothered to tell Jang that it’s not actually parodying if your film spends millions on the same special effects that was used in those other films. If you’re going to point out the silliness of a film, then for God’s sake don’t spend all your money copying their science. What’s the point?
Besides being a plot-by-plot, and at some points even a scene-by-scene, re-telling of the film by the Wachowski brothers, “Match Girl” shows an inability to commit to one purpose. It opens as a straight Korean drama, complete with Detached Long Takes and artsy visuals of mundane everyday life, only to shift into an action film that mocks action films. The mocking gets tossed aside when blood starts to flow freely and the film takes a morbid, serious look at violence and media-generated cults of celebrityhood.
It’s all done very well, from the absurd stunts by one character with a motorcycle to the Match Girl going around nonchalantly gunning people down. But it’s all incoherent. Everything is a jumbled mess, with no single, unifying core. By the time the movie hits its hour and 20 minute mark, the whole film becomes nothing more than a big rehash of “The Matrix”, complete with assault on a building and insane amounts of munitions being spent. It’s obvious when the film hits its “The Matrix” (supposed) parodies that it starts to hemorrhage money. And for what? The “Naked Gun” movies did a hell of a lot better parodying cop movies, and for much less money.
The most tragic thing about “Match Girl” is that it could have been such a good movie if it had only chosen an angle and stuck with it. As a straight sci-fi film, it has the makings of a terrific actioner. Even as a straight parody, it could have also been good, only there are no real laughs to be had. There are some sly smirks and chuckles here and there, but for the most part the movie’s inability to choose an angle just dooms it to utter tedium.
Although there were moments where I adored the film. I loved the addition of perfunctory arcade-like boxes that pops up to explain who each characters were. At one point, our main character is riding on a motorcycle when a caption refers to him as approaching “Tom Cruise” status. These are all good stuff, but everything gets pretty forgotten when the film hits its “Matrix” strides. Again, what is the point of parodying a movie if you’re just going to re-create all of its special effects so perfectly that it obviously cost you a lot of money?
I’ll tell you something; I’m sure glad I wasn’t the sucker bankrolling this movie.
Sun-Woo Jang (director) / Jin-mi In, Sun-Woo Jang (screenplay)
CAST: Eun-kyeong Lim …. Little Match Girl
Hyun-sung Kim …. Joo
Jin-pyo Kim …. Lee