Movie adaptations of video games have a hard won reputation for being entirely dreadful, as evidenced by, well, all of them. Puzzlingly, one of the most popular genres for plundering is the one on one fighting game, where any plot is relegated to an unread blurb in the manual. Not, you’d think, prime candidates for making movies from, but we’re here to talk about them regardless as we cover Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and DOA: Dead or Alive.
First up, the treatment of Capcom’s tremendously popular, genre-defining punchy-kicky game Street Fighter. It takes a very loose cue from Super Street Fighter 2, albeit with a bunch of wildly redesigned character motivations and roles, putting them into an action adventure framework that, very much unlike the game, has an actual rudimentary plot to it. Which may or may not be a positive.
Jean-Claude Van Damme takes the mantle of Colonel Guile, leader of an Allied Nations task force entering the civil war-torn region of Shadaloo, where the forces of self-proclaimed General Bison (Raul Julia) have taken control. Leading lights amongst Guile’s forces are Cammy (Kylie Minogue), T. Hawk (Gregg Rainwate) and of course Captain Sawada (Kenya Sawada), who I’m sure you remember from… the video game adaptation of this movie adaptation of the video game? MYHEADASPLODE.
Team Evil includes Bison’s goons, Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski) and Dee Jay (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), and he’s also forcing Doctor Dhalsim (Roshan Seth) to perform brainwashing and mutation experiments on Guile’s best mate Carlos Blanka (Robert Mammone) in the hopes of creating a perfect genetic soldier, Blanka being one of the hostages taken by Bison as he demands a $20 billion ransom, which prompted Guile’s dispatch to the region.
In the middle of this are Ken (Damian Chapa) and Ryu (Byron Mann), trying and failing to swindle gunrunner Sagat (Wes Studi) and his be-clawed goon Vega (Jay Tavare) before Guile arrests them all, seemingly on a whim, but leveraged into a plot to help locate Bison and infiltrate Ryu and Ken into Bison’s inner circle.
Rounding out the character roster, we have news reporter Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen), her cameraman and sound guy, I guess, E. Honda (Peter Tuiasosopo), and Balrog (the improbably named Grand L. Bush), with their own reasons for revenge on Bison who interject themselves into proceedings, because, well, why not. It’s not like this movie is going for subtlety.
The whole thing is of course heading for Guile and Co. to assault Bison’s base, but it takes a surprising amount of time to get there as it winds through it’s various phases of investigation and secondary confrontations, almost as though it’s trying to be a real film, albeit one with a tone that seems to get caught in the wind between comic action and action adventure.
That said, even without the whole, so-bad-it’s-funny thing, it’s plain as day that this is trying to be funny, so it’s strange that reviews back in 1994 were taking it seriously. Of course a bazooka-toting miniature Ozzie songstress Kylie is laughable. Of course you can’t take Raul Julia’s largest of all possible large hams, scenery-devouring, smidgen over the top delivery of these lines seriously. His tongue, and writer/director’s Steven E. de Souza are firmly in their respective cheeks.
That’s not to say that Die Hard, Commando, and The Running Man writer de Souza is completely successful in what he’s trying to do. Far from it, the intent of scenes often falling so flat it winds up being funny for entirely the wrong reasons, mixed in with some fairly mischievous scenes that do land. It is a very strange film on a number of levels, but one I kind of like.
It’s been a long time since I’ve revelled in habitually watching bad movies for ironic giggles, as life’s too short, but this was one of them back in ta day so I’m not completely sure it’s not nostalgia talking, but compared to most adaptations that take their subject matter so seriously, this is so dementedly goofy it’s tough not to warm to it. I mean, it’s terrible, but just the right sort of terrible. You’ll get much more fun out of this than Tomb Raider, for example.
If you’ve a passing interest in weird action films, this is highly recommended. Most sane people should continue to ignore it, I suppose, but those cats are boring. Live a little, watch this garbage.
The arch-rival of Street Fighter, then and now, followed it onto the big screen a year later with an early directing credit for one “Paul Anderson”, sadly the one later initialed “W.S.”. A P.T. Anderson Mortal Kombat film remains, for now, a distant dream.
Hewing much more closely to the source material than Street Fighter, this sees Christopher Lambert’s Thunder God Rayden, protector of Earth-realm, head up a group of fighters to represent said realm in the Mortal Kombat tournament. The stakes are high, with the chop sockey action deciding whether the Earth will continue on as we know it, or if it will be taken over by evil forces of Outworld, marshalled by sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).
After an understandable initial period of scepticism, leavened somewhat by their own personal motivations Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) accept the invitation to the tournament and step into the Enter the Dragon-inspired boats to the island that also acts as a portal to other realms. Ex-Shaolin Monk Liu Kang struggles with a prophecy that he is Chosen to be Earth’s champion and is more concerned with revenge on Shang Tsung for killing his brother, cop of some description Sonya is looking to bring down underworld boss Kano (Trevor Goddard), one of Shang Tsung’s goons, and actor Johnny Cage gets the shitty end of the motivation stick as he’s out to prove his punchy-kicky skills are indeed real, and not fake like the tabloids claim. The question is, can they work together and defeat Shang Tsung’s goons, including palette-swapped ninja of Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Reptile (played here by Chris Casamassa, François Petit, and Keith Cooke, which is rather against the spirit of the source material) and four-armed claymation nightmare Prince Goro?
And, well, so it goes, with the ludicrous framework largely fading into the background as it cycles through various fight match-ups in a variety of locations loosely drawn from the first two games, with nods hither and yon to the special moves and fatalities without feeling too shoehorned in, with the notable exception of the awkward proclamations of “Flawless Victory” and “Fatality” from Tagawa’s Shang Tsung.
High art it certainly is not, but for a film aimed squarely at action movie fans, and fans of the game, and ideally the Venn diagram intersection between the two, Mortal Kombat makes a reasonable fist of satisfying its admittedly not too lofty goals. It’s not without its flaws – the early CG of Reptile’s animal form in particular not having held up particularly well, or perhaps even having held up at the time, and much of the acting is, well, at best serviceable.
Oddly, while most of the cast seems to have been hired for their martial arts background, which might explain the lacklustre delivery, it’s nominal professional thespian Christopher Lambert that’s the worst offender, hamming things up to similar volumes as Raul Julia’s M. Bison but with the merest fraction of the charisma, rendering him quite annoying indeed.
Of course, anyone coming to Mortal Kombat looking for decent acting was on a hiding to nothing anyway, but if you’re more interested in the fight choreography you’ll have rather more joy here than you will in any of our other featured films today. They’re perfectly decently handled, and I’ll have to credit Anderson, and the fight choreography team with minimising the weaknesses of those with no martial arts experience and showing off the strengths of those with the relevant background.
Saying that this remains one of the most successful video-game to movie translations, both content-wise and commercially, is to damn this with the faintest of praise, and indeed praise is not something that should be lavished on a film that’s pretty much just competent, rather than good. However, in a field of pygmies this is a giant, so I suppose it must be recognised as such. If you must watch a film from today’s list, this is the best, but there’s better things to do with your time.
It’s perhaps a little unfair of me to consider the Dead or Alive series the perennial also-ran of the 3D era of fighting games to the likes of Tekken and Virtua Fighter, but it is at least a franchise that’s still going today, unlike your Battle Arena Toshindens and Bloody Roars. It’s one of the more controversial fighting games, largely due to its juvenile focus on breast motion mechanics as much as gameplay mechanics, which more or less carries over to this incarnation.
There’s perhaps some hope for optimism with Corey Yuen at the helm, the veteran fight choreographer and action director responsible for some of Jet Li’s best films, such as The Legend of Fong-Sai Yuk, although I’m sure Yuen’s western outings will swing that pendulum back to the negative for most. And, well, at the risk of spoiling the flow of this review, let’s just state up front the Dead or Alive is a colossal pile of garbage.
Again taking its structural cues from Enter the Dragon, a wide-ranging group of combatants are invited to a remote island for a fighting tournament, although unbeknownst to the competitors it’s actually being used by organiser Donovan (Eric Roberts) to harvest data on their fighting styles to create a weapon that frankly bears no scrutiny whatsoever, so let’s skip over that.
We largely follow female protagonists, Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly) fighting for respect, Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) investigating the disappearance of her brother at the last tournament, and Christie Allen (Holly Valance), a burglar who gets wind of a huge sum of money somewhere in Donovan’s vaults from her sometime partner Max (Matthew Marsden). They come together to pursue these agendas amongst a number of dismal fight sequences featuring the rest of the supporting cast that I cannot muster the enthusiasm to talk about.
Now, when you think about the obvious choices for lead performer in a movie focused primarily on martial arts, of course one immediately pops to mind – Australian soap star and pop crooner Holly Valance – at least if you’ve been dropped on your head a sufficient number of times as a child. It’s logic like this that pretty much runs all the way through the casting decisions – it doesn’t matter if you can act particularly well (there’s no evidence of that in this film), if you can look convincing in a fight scene (certainly no evidence of that), but only that you look appealing in a bikini.
If you did come to this film expecting at least a few decent action scenes, I can offer you one, just about, where Kane Kosugi, who may be the only martial artist in a speaking role, takes on a bunch of goons for about a minute. The rest of it is a dreadful waste of time and effort for everyone involved, with choppy editing failing to cover up the basic inadequacy of the cast to cover the material provided.
Whereas Mortal Kombat edges towards competence and Street Fighter might get a pass on unintentional comedy grounds, Dead or Alive is just a depressing, boring watch that has nothing to recommend about it unless you really have no other source for lingering close ups of bikini-clad women. A completely miserable experience from start to end, I would not wish this film upon my worst enemy. Pish.
Look, while we’re talking about the subject, if you’re more of a Tekken fan than any of these properties the live action film from 2010 or thereabouts isn’t completely terrible, inasmuch as there’s about a half hour of well choreographed fights bookended by an hour of forgettable plot an worldbuilding nonsense, but it’s more coherent than Street Fighter and at least as good action-wise as Mortal Kombat, so it’s probably the best of a bad bunch.
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