It's the middle of July in Montreal and the mosquitoes, sated on tourist's blood and dizzy from the heat, don't so much fly as lurch drunkenly from victim to victim. In their confused state, it would be easy enough to kill the flying buzzards, if you could muster up the energy to swat them or to care. Addled by the sun, drunk from the heat and warm beer, weak from loss of blood, the only, the best solution is to head into the welcoming cool dark of my favourite film fest in the whole world: FANTASIA.
The Fantasia festival is especially welcome this year, because last year it was cancelled when the air conditioning at the lovely downtown Art Deco theatre, the Imperial, conked out and the Montreal city council dragged its feet on replacing it. This year, the festival looked again to be at risk since the city council decided to do a full and long overdo renovation of the Imperial Cinema. This renovation was supposed to be finished well before the festival, but like any major renovation project undertaken in Quebec, it looks like it will be finished three months late and ten million dollars over budget. (How Quebec contractors can figure out a way to pad an extra ten million dollars to any renovation project, even when the original budget was under a thousand dollars, is one of those enduring Quebec mysteries that like the construction holiday and moving day that is meant to be endured rather than explained.)
Fortunately, at the last minute, Concordia University stepped in to offer their University Cinema. One screen expansion and addition of a state of the art sound system later, and Fantasia was ready to roll, albeit in different surroundings.
The other major change at the Festival this year is the elimination of the festival pass. For veterans of the festival, like myself this was a major blow. Where in the past, I could choose freely from all of the films in the festival and take chances on films that I would not otherwise attend, this year I found myself forced to pick and choose. The ostensible reason for this change was so that Fantasia could become part of admissions dot com, so that out-of-town visitors could reserve their tickets in advance. I will admit that the previous system, where you could only get your tickets 48 hours in advance was needlessly cumbersome, and forced you to line up once to buy a ticket and once to get into your film.
If you ordered your tickets online, you paid seven Dollars a ticket, but if you trundled down to Concordia to buy your tickets in person, you could take advantage by buying ten tickets for $55. Which is how I found myself standing in line for six hours on Monday to buy tickets to Forty films, grumbling as I was forced to eliminate films from my list. Fortunately, a friend of mine Ken, stood in line for an hour before I showed up and saved me a place in line. He was probably the difference between me getting my tickets before midnight or being there until two in the morning.
Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (Seugnyangpaly Soneu) Korea, 2002 Director Jang Sun-Woo Canadian Premiere
Speaking broadly and oversimplifying greatly, films at Fantasia fall into three main categories: good films, bad films and films that transcend antiquated concepts like good and bad as they flay into their own bizarre universe and dare you to come along. Resurrection of the Little Match Girl is a category three film.
One of the more disorientating things about watching films from Korea is the way that you get bits and pieces of Western culture that pop up in their films. Parts of our own upbringing and childhood that have been absorbed and then get reflected back at you somehow changed, twisted from what you knew. This film is a case in point.
Taking as its basis the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Little Match Girl who freezes in the snow, the myth gets updated slightly by giving the Match Girl butane lighters from which she sniffs the butane so that when she freezes to death she at least does so with a smile on her face.
Now the film gets really twisted, once we add our hero Ju to the mix. Ju hangs around the arcade and dreams of becoming a professional gamer like his best friend. He moons after Hee-Mee, the girl who manages the arcade, but she barely knows that he exists. Then Ju buys a butane lighter from the Little Match Girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to Hee-Mee and Ju's whole life turns upside down.
By composing the serial number on the butane lighter that he bought, Ju finds himself entering a live action arcade game, where the purpose of the game is to protect the Little Match Girl from people who would buy her lighters or her body, so that she can fulfill her destiny and freeze to death happily. Yes, it is a very odd premise to a video game.
In the process of navigating his way through the game, Ju and the Little Match Girl run into all kinds of characters from video games albeit distorted. So, we get Lara Croft as a transsexual lesbian killing and dancing machine. We also get what I take to be a version of the driver from the Crazy Taxi video series, although in the subtitles he refers to himself as "The original Bullet Taxi driver."
The obvious comparison is to Cronenberg's Existenz, and the film certainly shares the dizzying blurring of reality, fiction and meta-fiction that Existenz adopts, but in terms of style the film is clearly trying to emulate Matrix with a video-game twist. And for the first third of the film, the film can safely be categorized that way. But then the Little Match Girl somehow ends up in possession of an automatic weapon and cinematically all hell breaks loose.
One of the characteristics of a Fantasia audience are the astonishingly inappropriate responses that the film makers probably hoped for, but never dreamed that he would receive so enthusiastically. When the Little Match Girl wanders into a crowded subway station, and after being rejected by everyone, opens fire with an automatic weapon, the spontaneous applause by the entire audience drove home the point: Fantasia is back and as usual it is taking no prisoners.
The Resurrection of the Little Match Girl may have seemed at first blush to be an odd choice to open the festival. It is a film that confuses as much as it enlightens, a messy piece of cinematic sleight of hand that takes you from the familiar shores of Western myth into uncharted and perhaps unchartable waters. I tend to think of it as the perfect choice. Throw away your maps, pilgrims, here there be monsters.