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FANTASIA 2003: MORIARTY Reviews RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL and OLD MEN IN NEW CARS!!

Published at: July 23, 2003, 12:12 p.m. CST by staff

Hi, everybody. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Okay… here I am now. Entertain me.

As always, air travel was hellish. I left Los Angeles just before midnight on Sunday, and after dealing with flight cancellations and sadistic ticket counter assholes who had me galloping around Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I finally managed to touch down in Montreal around noon on Monday.

I hate that grimy post-travel feeling, so first priority was a shower, then a two-hour nap. I must have slept right through my 4:00 wake-up call, though. When I finally managed to struggle back to something like consciousness, it was almost 6:00, meaning the first film of the evening had already started.

Thankfully, I’ve already seen ICHI THE KILLER. I think it’s remarkable and energetic and more than a little insane, but it’s not a film I feel the need to revisit over and over. When I got to the theater at Concordia Hall, Mitch Davis snuck me in so I could get a look at the screen during ICHI’s big finish. Mitch is one of the incredible programmers who put FanTasia together, and like Pierre Corbeil, the fest’s director, he was visibly enthused about this venue and didn’t seem to view it as a compromise.

It’s hard to beat the Imperial for sheer aesthetic plushness. It’s a great old stand-alone movie palace with around 760 seats, and part of what won me over to FanTasia in the first place was the feeling of being swallowed up by that place for an entire day. By contrast, the Concordia Theater Hall is in an academic setting, and when you walk into the 720 seat room, it feels like what it is: a college lecture hall. A very big one, certainly. The FanTasia team has spent a lot of money tricking the venue out though, with an all-new Dolby Digital sound system and an expanded screen.

This was made perfectly clear to me with my first film of the festival, a title I’ve been wanting to see for a while. RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL is the most expensive Korean film ever made, and in some ways, it seems determined to play by the same rules as any bubble-brained Hollywood blockbuster. Lots of stuff blows up. There’s wire-fu and bullet time. There are set pieces that seem to exist simply to showcase the special effects. But despite that, the movie establishes a fiercely independent spirit with its simple, almost willful surreality. This is RUN LOLA RUN by way of THE MATRIX, a movie that fluently speaks the vocabulary of video games.

The opening of the film is essentially a silent movie in which we meet, Himi, The Little Match Girl (Lim Eun-kyeong), wandering the streets and trying to make enough money to keep herself from freezing or starving. No one looks at her. No one stops for her. One man offers to buy her lighter and her body, too. Another tells her to suck butane out of her lighters when she complains about being hungry. She does, and as she lays in a gutter, overcome by fatigue and the elements and the fumes, she just gives up and dies.

And that’s where the film starts.

Director Jang Sun-Woo has made an action film that hides a meditative heart. This is a film about powerlessness. Ju (Kim Hyun-Sung) is a delivery guy who spends his nights playing videogames and his days dreaming of revenge on everyone who mistreats him. He stumbles into an opportunity to play a bigger game than anything he’s ever seen before. By entering “The System,” he has a chance to be part of a contest centered on The Little Match Girl. The goal: keep every other player from buying her lighters so she’ll starve and freeze to death. Yeah, that’s right... he’s not supposed to save her. No one is. She’s meant to die, alone and afraid.

Ju can’t do it, though. His encounters with Himi affect him, though, and he ends up subverting the game. He encounters numerous other players in the process, including an outrageous transsexual dancer who calls herself Lara. As in Croft. Much ass-kicking commences. And somehow both Ju and Himi find strength they didn’t know they had. Both of them have dreams of being people who matter, people who aren’t just ignored. There’s one sequence in particular, underscored by Aaron Neville’s “Ave Maria,” that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. The movie’s schizophrenic mixture of tones guarantees it’s not for everyone, but it’s a rewarding ride for adventurous viewers.

If RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL was the right way to kick off this year’s FanTasia for me, the last film of the evening was the perfect way to kick it into high gear. I can’t say enough good about OLD MEN IN NEW CARS... but I’ll certainly try.

It’s just dumb luck that I’ve seen the film IN CHINA THEY EAT DOGS. It played Los Angeles a few years back, and I had never heard anything about it. A friend of mine went, then dragged me to see it the next day, due in large part to the absolutely insane ending. It’s a Danish crime film that takes a wild metaphysical left turn a la Takashi Miike’s DEAD OR ALIVE. Without being explicit about spoilers, let’s just say there was no way to make a sequel to the film.

Leave it to screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (MIFUNE, OPEN HEARTS, THE KING IS ALIVE) to come up with a prequel that allows us to revisit a bloodsoaked landscape where we’re treated to another story about Harald, a really, really bad criminal plaed with a slowburn and a glower that would make James Gandolfini jealous. The film starts with Harald getting released from prison. Right away, he gets harassed by Ratko, a truly psychotic thug who Harald owes money. Harald bargains a little time for himself, then heads to his restaurant, which has been run by Peter and Martin in his absence. If it was just a film about this trio, it would be ridiculously entertaining. There’s a great, easy chemistry between them that drives the whole thing, and maybe it’s he fact that we like hese guys so much that allows us to take such a violent, genuinely blackhearted thrill ride without flinching.

It would be pointless to try to put together a synopsis for this film. It’s breathless and lunatic, and all you can do is strap in and hold on as you deal with Harald’s constant confusion about gender, the absolute worst prison break I’ve ever seen, a psychopath with severe women troubles, crazed car chases, fixed football games, accidental electrocution (both real and imagined), inappropriate answers to unwelcomed questions, Ecuadorean organ transplants, aquaphobic dogs, pilots on morphine, and sweetbread. Lots and lots of sweetbread. Director Lasse Sprang Olsen has done a tremendous job, and he may have actually surpassed the first film with this crime comedy that would make all the pussies currently crying about the violence in BAD BOYS II positively pass out. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

There was a short film before OLD MEN IN NEW CARS that’s worth mentioning, a hilarious little hit-and-run called A NINJA PAYS HALF MY RENT. It’s just five minutes, but director Steven Tsuchidausa earns some honest belly laughs in that brief time.

Tomorrow’s films get started with FLCL, an anime compilation that’s been described to me as “totally bugfuck.” Sounds great. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • July 23, 2003, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Heavy Metal Rules

    by Flipao

    Rob's back with Priest.... life's good again :P

  • July 23, 2003, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Fantasia One was the best

    by malikye

    did you guys see this week's episode of the REAL WORLD on MTV. it was funny!

  • July 23, 2003, 1:37 p.m. CST

    Man, I must be the only guy who really disliked RESSURECTIONS OF

    by lostoptimist

    It just seemed to go in too many directions without following through nor fleshing out (hardly) any of them. Yes, the Match Girl is cute as the dickens, and yes the setpieces are nice in terms of eye candy, and yes to so many other things but all those nice little parts don't add up to much but I digress...I simply disagree with you, Mori, on the film. DOUBLE AGENT is very cool, though. It's like a throwback to the 70's and George Roy Hill's LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL. Good stuff.

  • July 23, 2003, 4:54 p.m. CST

    MATCH GIRL = Shit to the power of ten

    by Harry Weinstein

    To the poster who didn't like it, you're not alone, it's just you, and me, and all of South Korea. This was a catastrophic ultra-flop on it's home turf. The movie nearly crippled the whole industry, and got several other big-budget projects cancelled. According to people I know who were working in Korean movies at the time, the director was woefully unprepared for a project of this magnitude, coming off of the shot-on-DV, quasi-pornographic LIES. He didn't have a script or storyboards - things you simply NEED to make a FX-heavy film of this sort in anything resembling an efficent way. But without those things, the budget exploded through the roof - a situation made worse by the director's numerous production shutdowns while he disappeared, mid production, with no warning to the cast or crew, to LA and parts unknown. Nobody from the crew went to the premiere, as many of them were paid obscenely small amounts of money for the four years of hell they were put through. "Obscenely small" would here roughly translate to a week's pay for a video store clerk in Detroit - and that's what you got for 4 years of work. Most of the budget is emphatically NOT onscreen. VOLCANO HIGH had far better effects, for a fraction of the expense. This movie is as obscenely wasteful as anything you're likely to see. And oh yeah, it's really bad, too - incoherent, sloppy, frustrating filmmaking that goes nowhere. There's exactly one good scene. The wire-fu is crap, lacking the subtle believability of a Wong Jing film. It's just a bunch of people swinging around on wires. The ill-concieved fast-motion car chase might just be an all time low for car chases. The attempts at philosophy feel completely out of place. The movie is just plain bad. EQUILIBRIUM was much better, and that film was mostly laughable.

  • July 23, 2003, 11:05 p.m. CST

    Yeah! IN CHINA THEY EAT DOGS!

    by Frietag

    The most "unavailable on video" movie ever -- it's not on eBay, it's not on file-sharing, it's not nowhere nohow. It's barely on the IMDB. I saw the last showing on the last day in L.A. and I wonder sometimes if I'll ever get another chance to see it. Those guys don't give two swigs if anyone outside Denmark knows about them, and more power to them! More quality product from the coolest little film industry in Europe.

  • July 24, 2003, 2:26 a.m. CST

    Old Men in New Cars

    by David Lightman

    God I feel sorry for you Americans. I Live in Finland and we had Old Men in New Cars in the theatres about a year ago and it was on all the major theatres not in those small art house places. And even better still you can loan a copy of They Eat Dogs in China from the fucking library....thats scandinavia for you.

  • July 24, 2003, 8:13 a.m. CST

    You guys are not alone...

    by ajy1

    "Resurrection" is insipid, without merit, and ultimately boring. I don't get why some geeks are going nuts over the film. It seems that anything that resembles a videogame gets a lot more credit than it deserves.

  • July 24, 2003, 10:46 a.m. CST

    galloping? think not

    by bobleeswagger

    I've seen a picture of this guy, I'm pretty sure that galloping would be almost immediately followed by massive coronary.

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