['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a new column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins, which takes a look at movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with a focus on the obscure and the misunderstood. This week’s selection hails from South Korea and was produced in 2002.]

RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/matchgirl1.gifSo most video game movies are based on video games, right? Well here's one based on... an old Christmas story by Hans Christian Anderson?

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl tells the tale of Joo, a quiet, downtrodden regular Joe who spends his time either working a crappy Chinese food delivery job, or in the arcades playing various arcade shooters - which help fuel his fantasies of blasting away all the rude customers he has to deal with. His main aspiration is to be a pro gamer like his best buddy GG. Why? Women, naturally. In one of the film’s earliest scenes features both guys having dinner with two girls, and when GG tells the ladies about the StarCraft competition he’s set to participate in, along with all the money and fame that’ll come if he nabs the top prize, both get into an argument in the bathroom over the chance to bag him. Joo on the other hand is completely cast aside.

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Then after yet another evening spent in the arcade playing a few games as well as pining over the cutie who runs the place (but who already has a boyfriend and is clearly out of his league anyway), Joo is approached by a girl selling lighters (the titular character, though modified since no one sells matches anymore in this day and age), who not only looks like the arcade girl from before but also seems totally out of it. Joo then quietly follows the Match Girl in the shadows and watches as she approaches a sailor to sell her wares, who in turn takes her back to his boat for the evening. Then the words "GAME OVER" comes across the movie screen, along with "Hint: pay attention and be careful" and "Restart (YES/NO)". We are then transported back to the scene in which Joo received the lighter, and upon closer examination he notices a phone number (which also happens to feature a logo closely resembling the one for the Sega Dreamcast). He calls the it and a voice welcomes him to Resurrection of the Little Match Girl, a game provided by "the System".

How The Game/Movie Works

Joo agrees to play and the rules are immediately laid out: the goal is to allow the girl to die from the cold by "saving" her from certain individuals that are either willing to buy a lighter from her or want her for their own nefarious purposes. Also, in the original story, the Match Girl dies while thinking of her grandmother, so in the game Joo must make the girl fall in love with him before allowing her to expire. Joo is also informed that failure means he'll be stuck in the game forever. Thus the “game” begins.

The basic thrust of the film is Joo’s attempt at “winning” the game, which mostly consists of him dealing with the assorted video game conventions and the accompanying shift in reality; early on he acquires an ID card that he uses to attain weapons and health (i.e buy food). Graphics and explanations appear often on-screen whenever a new element comes up, or if there’s a chance in status. When Joo nails his first bad guy, we see his “stats” increase.

They also pop up whenever characters are introduced, which are the other major component he has to handle (some are friends but most are foes). There’s a wide and colorful cast, which includes a lecherous old man, five bumbling hoodlums which provides the movie's primary comic relief, Odeng, the obligatory weaponry provider, and Oh Sadness, the main bad guy, who also happens to be the one who killed the Match Girl's love (explaining why she's messed up), and has since been "cursed". Each time someone appears, you get information regarding their health, strength, hit points, et-cetera, as well as a brief biographical blurb, which provides as much insight as the ones you get from the attract screens in a fighting game. Though the best of the bunch and definite highlight of the entire film has to be the gun-toting Lara, whose bio says it all: "Remember Lara Croft. But here she's a lesbian. She's powerful but mentally unstable." It should also be noted that she is actually a he; the character of Lara is portrayed by Jin Xing, a real life Chinese transsexual actor.

Stage 1

The "game" starts out pretty strong. Early on Joo pairs up with Lara who helps the Little Match Girl escape the clutches of Oh Sadness’ men, who had kidnapped her away from the aforementioned goofy gang which had previously nabbed her from the streets and were engaging in a false-molestation scenario to help set up their boss’s grand entrance, with the idea being that he would kicks their asses and “save” her from them so she would therefore fall in love with the man, who also happens to be portrayed by a poor Korean imitation of John Belushi. The whole sequence of events can only be described as “wacky”. When Lara hits the scene, it's nothing but hard-hitting business; she shoots while running (both on the ground and up the walls), sliding, doing summersaults, jumping on and off her bike (which is called “Tom Cruise”, a nod to Top Gun perhaps), and even flat out flying through the air. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, when people leap in the air, they defy gravity but it makes at least a little sense. Not here. And when a shot connects (which it always does; Lara’s an expert shot of course) the results are pretty gruesome, with blood flying all over the place as well; the movie doesn't pull back any punches with the outlandish action, which is all high-speed, visceral, cartoony, and, yes, very video game-like. And it’s very enjoyable to watch, especially when Joo and Lara take the showdown to a disco, where she not only shoots and jumps, but busts moves on the dance floor), in a scene where the director figuratively comes forward and says "I like the Matrix a lot and have no problems ripping it off because I LOVE BULLET TIME."

The rest of the first leg has the Little Match Girl passing out from inhaling lighter fluid, which brings upon a hallucination/flashback/music video sequence featuring her dead boyfriend singing some cheesy K-rock ballad and then getting killed by Oh Sadness. We also discover that Joo is a “virus” that the System considers a major threat, and calls upon Oh Sadness to seek out and eliminate the player. Oh Sadness in turn enlists his best agent, GG. The System is portrayed by a French man who speaks English, so his dialogue is not subtitled like the rest of the Korean dialogue, but his accent is so thick it’s impossible to make out 60% of what he's saying. And the crazy old guy who gives Joo cryptic advice, Choopung, also created the System but was “betrayed” by it, and now he wants to take it down (naturally).

Stage 2

The second “stage” begins with the Little Match Girl running around town with a gun, back to selling lighters. This time when folks say no, she just blows them away. This in turn makes her a media darling, and is dubbed the "LMG Bug" by the press. It makes one lead to believe that every denizen of the game's world knows that they aren’t real and are happy to see something screw up the system, but it’s an avenue that's never fully explored. Another scene that seems completely out of place has her storming into an orphanage where kids are used as slave labor, and killing the operators, who are so evil they bleed green blood. Unfortunately, she ends up taking a few kids out in the process. Whoops!

Later, while being swamped by her rabid fanbase of people that now are more than willing to buy lighters from her, the Match Girl gets ambushed, but uses her now perfected skills at blowing people to bits to take out the bad guys and hijack a cab, which leads to a semi-comical car chase with the film sped up like Benny Hill.

Soon there's a stand off between herself and Oh Sadness, who reveals that it wasn't he who killed her main squeeze, but the System, who ain't too happy about that revelation, so Oh Sadness is quickly snuffed while the Match Girl is finally subdued. Later we catch up with Joo who is totally weaponless and starving since he had to ditch his ID as the System was using it to track him. Joo eventually confronts Choopung who tells him to go to see Odeng, who then tells him to see Choopung again, but this time it’s the "real" Choopung, not the "game" Choopung. (I think... things get really confusing at this point). Joo also receives the Mackerel, which looks like a cheap kid's toy but is the movie/game's obligatory ultimate weapon. But it has limited firepower, so he’d better be careful!

Stage 3

End game finally begins kicks off with Joo storming the System's HQ that is a very long and costly looking action sequence with lots of stuff being blown to bits. This is the part of the movie that really begins to feel like the director’s checklist of “video-gamey” stuff to do. "Hey, our good guy is running down the hallway, shooting bad guys. Can we insert some cheesy FPS graphics here? Good." Then you have the inevitable Joo/GG confrontation where they engage in fisticuffs wearing trench coats, dodge bullets, move in slow mo, and even punch each other in a rain-soaked alleyway for no real reason. Eventually we arrive at the heart of the System, which is an all white room with crappy Matrix-gibberish computer code running down the sides of walls, along with a few grey arcade cabinets littered about.

The System says a few indistinguishable things, and a last ditch attempt to save the girl is made, but Joo is killed. Yet, he’s not really dead, because it was all just a game. So Joo gets up from his computer and continues on with his life as a lowly Chinese delivery guy.

The End

Or is it? Psyche! He had another credit, or something. And you can see where this is going... provided an overly symbolic-laden grand finale in which Joo must shoot it out with bad guys while the Match Girl runs on top of ocean waves while trying to destroy a golden moth is someone’s idea of an obvious conclusion. I'd like to think that it was a subtle reference to the game Rez, but a part of me doesn't want to give the filmmaker that much credit.

Is Resurrection of the Little Match Girl a good movie? No. Very much the opposite: the plot is completely incoherent, much of the action and violence seems completely unnecessary, all the characters are one dimensional, and it’s more or less an extremely awkward mash-up of parody, satire, and social commentary. The film tries very hard to say several things about the human condition, video gamers, and maybe our society, but all of it is very unclear. But ultimately it’s not bad in the same way that other bad video game movies are. At the very least, it’s different.

http://www.gamesetwatch.com//matchgirl8.jpgThough what makes the film truly special is that it’s practically the most embarrassing thing to come from the white-hot Korean film scene. Whereas virtually every single Korean film produced from 2000 has been a smash success in its home land, and the darling of whatever film festival it appears at elsewhere, Resurrection was a colossal disaster, and is perhaps something the entire nation might want to forget ever happened. According to New York based Subway Cinema, which was brave enough to host its US premiere (I think its safe to say that no one else had the guts or common sense to play it elsewhere), the movie was such a massive bomb that it single-handedly bankrupted all three of the companies that financed the project, which was apparently many years in the making. And it definitely looked like it cost three company’s worth of assets; the movie is visually stunning, and far more respectable than most other movies based on games, which often have shoestring budgets. At a time when most Korean directors are busy working on three films at once; Resurrection's director, Jang Sun-Woo, has yet to make another film.

Final Score…

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl may go down as a true forgotten classic in the realm of video game cinema, one that doesn’t deserve to slip away. At the very least it should be celebrated as a bad video game movie with a little bit of class, since it’s also a foreign flick, which has to count as something. And much like gender-bending Lara Croft, it needs to be seen to be believed.

Also…

Another film from Asia, from Hong Kong, which doesn’t deal with video games as heavily but has a few nice elements from them, and more importantly is a good movie, is Bio Zombie. It’s basically Dawn of the Dead, but in an urban Hong Kong shopping center, and instead of some SWAT team members, it’s just a pair of hapless VCD bootleggers fighting the undead (with skills honed via House of the Dead). The movie also happens to feature the absolute best use of a Game Boy Camera in motion picture history.

There’s also La Maquina de Bailar, the Spanish DDR movie that opens very soon. So Americans aren't the only ones looking from behind a controller for movie ideas.

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]