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Review: ‘Big Match’ pits brawn against brains in a fight to the finish (Includes first-hand account)

There is a significant amount of power wielded by a privileged few who lack integrity and possess enough wealth for them to believe they exist above the law. Consequently, everyone and everything else in the world is a means by which they can profit or be entertained. High-stakes gambling, big game hunting, exploiting resources and disregarding general civility are just some of the ways in which they exercise their perceived superiority. The degree to which these villains actually exist is uncertain but in the movies they are everywhere including Big Match, which chronicles an underground betting ring that turns the city into its game board.

Iko (Jung-jae Lee) was always a skilled athlete, but he found his calling in the mixed-martial arts arena. Trained by his brother, Yeong-ho (Sung-min Lee), Iko becomes one of the world’s best fighters. However, not everyone is a fan of their success. Suddenly Yeong-ho is the prime suspect in a murder investigation and Iko is being held by police as a possible accomplice. But that’s just the beginning. The game planner (Ha-kyun Shin) waves the starting flag and Iko must play or risk losing his brother forever. With each new level, the odds are stacked further against him from a dozen opponents to more than 60. And while Iko battles his way through each new challenge, seven affluent gamblers bet on whether he’ll succeed or fail — but Iko never loses.

This isn’t exactly an original concept for a film, echoing the premises of movies such as The Game and Rat Race. However this picture incorporates some notable action sequences in which Iko takes on and outsmarts multiple adversaries, ranging from armed police officers to gangsters unwittingly caught in the crossfire. Jung-jae Lee’s athleticism is impressive as he leaps over enemies, dodges bullets, and kicks and punches his way out of any situation. The ferocity and imbalance of the fight scenes is reminiscent of fast-paced martial arts films like The Raid, in which the hero is exceptionally skilled at disarming his opponents in confined areas. In spite of the quick action, the actors’ moves are defined rather than close-up blurs in which the audience eventually loses interest.

In the meantime, the game planner is pulling everyone’s strings from the sidelines, orchestrating everything from Iko’s course to the size of the bets being placed. His high-tech game suite is able to tap into any camera or security system, giving him tremendous control over the events that occur. However he also proves very good at thinking on his feet, adapting whenever Iko throws a wrench into his meticulous design. The race to the final round is a little long, but there is enough to keep audiences engaged until all the players converge for one last showdown (followed by one more).

This exciting, adrenaline-fueled Korean action adventure had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Director: Ho Choi
Starring: Jung-jae Lee, Ha-kyun Shin and Sung-min Lee

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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